WHEN IT comes to jewellery and piercings then New-York based Maria Tash is a bonafide phenomenon. Setting up her first studio in 1993 in Manhattan’s East Village, the designer has redefined the industry she is in by patenting her own piercings, coining the term ‘ear curation’ and dressing the ears of some of the biggest names in show business, from Angelina Jolie and Uma Thurman to Evan Mock and Kaia Gerber.
Understanding that your ear can be decorated in a way to hide and emphasise your features and scars, as well as becoming an integral part of your outfit, Maria Tash has developed technology to ensure there is far more to her art than what meets the eye, allowing clients to utilise her 360º approach showcasing her famed skills from all angles, from the backs to the volume of the sides to the traditional front view.
Now, with two more collections on the way, the Emerald Collection and the Tiger Eye Collection, and with the news of expansion set for 2022, Maria Tash spoke from her office about her journey to becoming an industry leader.
What’s your earliest memory of jewellery? My grandmother would crochet and I went and I got like this pewter thin wire, and I started crocheting with it a little bit. That was a lot of fun. I probably did that around age 12 or so. I remember knitting a metal bag – I still have it.
It’s not the most elegant thing on the planet, but I was pleased to like experiment with it. There were some jewellery designers that were knitting and crocheting in gold and I remember reading about them even at that age.
And also, I would say even then I remember just taking wire because you could get that at hobby stores, and making like double finger rings. My mum actually took an adult jewellery class which she brought me along to, and I remember they were hammering copper bracelets, you would hammer the shape and then you could like hammer X’s and stars into it, and I remember doing that as a little kid.
When did you get your first piercing?
[Laughs] Okay, scared to death of lobes at age 14 but I did it in the mall. I remember them taking the [piercing] gun to my ears being like ‘You’ll see, you’ll be back for hole number two’, I was like no way! [Laughs] Look what happened! As I got older, I started getting into music like New Wave and Goth, and saw beautiful imagery of multiple piercings. I like to be in control so I bought a piercing gun and did a lot of self-piercings – I used to do it on myself and my friends which I am not recommending anybody do that but it is a part of my evolution.
I read London sparked your interest in piercing – what was it about your time in this city that caused this interest? I did two terms abroad at King’s College London. There were club nights and everybody was dolled up. People spent a lot more time thinking about what they looked like, like the crimp and coordinating your nostril jewellery colour to your hair colour – it was beyond what I had seen in New York and I loved it, I wanted to be part of it.
I got my first nostril pierced in Kensington Market, and then I went to an Indian stall there – they would be like “see you next week” because I would regularly get little things done. I think after London, so that’s in the late 1980s, is when my serious foray into piercing started.
When did you kind of like decide to pursue jewellery as a career? I took some classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology during college and in the summer. To be honest, I felt a little intimidated by it, I was intimidated by the people who drew really great that were in the class.
I had ideas that were a little different about where to place things, I realised that my sketches were good enough if I could find people to help me execute what I could see.
I decided to pursue jewellery more earnestly after college and moved to the East Village. I thought I was going to start a band, I was taking guitar lessons and I started piercing out of my apartment which was a bold manoeuvre because I hadn’t formally studied.
Before I opened my first store, I was piercing strangers out of my apartment from putting an ad in the paper and I was amazed how much people trusted me. But it taught me and gave me confidence that I could have a clientele which was enough motivation to open the first store in the village with cheap rent.
How is a Maria Tash piercing experience unique? It’s first a styling experience. The styling experience is how I conceive the business as a part of the beauty and the fashion industry. With the beauty aspect, it’s like what looks good on your skin tone – nowadays, it’s like white, yellow, rose or black [gold]. What looks good with your personal aesthetic? Do you hate diamonds? Do you love lots of plain gold? The other is what’s your personal aesthetic, and you can discuss this. Then you look at their features.
There’s a lot of like principles of plastic surgery and colour tones like in the beauty industry. And then there’s the layering aspect, right? So to me, that’s more fashion. Usually we deal with multiples, and then how do you creatively layer something that’s sort of more art curation.
Also, what make it unique is how many diameters that we stock of all the different sizes of the same designs that we can fit it to your anatomy. I’ve always had a lot of skews, but I wanted that because I wanted it to be so custom and fit well to the body.
Then when it comes to the piercing it turns out it’s not about one dimension, it’s a three dimensional tunnel angle. You’ve got to mark the other side and really understand the 3D view, so our piercings are subject to constant scrutiny as we have developed software and I like people who do piercings to take pictures of their work. How do I know the quality of what’s coming out?
With many celebrities wearing your designs, do you have a favourite red carpet moment? I was thrilled when Rihanna wore us to the Met Gala this past season. I mean it was like Balenciaga and Maria Tash. I was so thrilled with that. We designed the whole look around her piercings, like what the ideal diameters are for each area and proposed a look for each side that they could either take parts or the whole idea and they took everything and she even got to have the new piercings that I patented– it was a very, very validating moment.