Meet the NYC piercer who’s styling everyone’s ears (yes, that’s a thing)

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A photo posted by J. Colby Smith (@jcolbysmith) on

From multiple eyebrow rings at Rodarte to septum rings at Givenchy, we don’t need to tell you that piercings are back. And while those two aren’t the most wearable IRL examples (you can try, though, I guess), the fashion set is opting for multiple ear piercings instead. But to be clear, these are not the earrings of your teenage days. (Full disclosure, as a teen I had 14 ear piercings and six of them I’d pierced myself with safety pins…which I kept in as earrings. So no judgement if you’re still rocking your surgical steel or titanium barbells.)

Piercings are a temporary way (read: the opposite of tattoos) to change up your look, add some sparkle where you want it, or just be constantly accessorized without having to think about it every morning. However, as is the case with most jewellery trends right now, sleek and minimal is the way to go. So how do multiple ear piercings translate to minimalism? We sat down with the best in the game, J. Colby Smith of New York Adorned in NYC, who’s done Zoe Kravitz’s septum, and has pierced Sky Ferreira, Emma Stone, Zoe Saldana, Julianne Moore, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Emily Weiss (who happens to be a close friend of Smith’s).

Read our interview with Smith—who btw creates a piercing environment so zen and tranquil it may as well be a meditation session—and check out some of his work in the gallery below.

You’re known for putting your own spin on the piercings people ask for and essentially designing their ears
“I try not to do it from an egotistical point of view. I’m really just trying to help people make good decisions. Every person is so different and so unique. For example, some people will have all the jewellery they need. Sometimes I’ll take those pieces and rearrange them into a more cohesive thing that makes sense. They could walk out without spending a dollar. If I really believe that they have everything they need, I can work with that.”

How can you look at someone’s ear and know exactly what to do?
“It’s just repetition and a lot of practice. I’ve created all these little rules in my mind. [Like], I’ll always put heavier pieces on the bottom and build lighter to the top. I try to keep materials uniform so they all look planned out. I have a hard time mixing metals. Mixing is okay if the metals are touching each other, [though]. For example, if I took a white gold ring and rose gold ring and I stuck those two rings in the same hole so that they were forced to touch each other, I think that works. It looks intentional, like those two pieces were soldered together. If you do a rose gold ring in your ear and a white gold ring in your upper ear, it looks like you got one in Spain and one in Portugal or something. I like the consistency. I like it to look organized.

Usually what I’ll do is look at people and kind of size them up as far as what their style is and what their jewellery’s like. I build off of that. That’s where I take their style and mix it with mine. I like when people come in and are confident in me helping them make decisions, but I’ll get the random person who will come in and have a little bit of a control issue, thinking ‘This piercer doesn’t get me. I’m super stylish. What the fuck does he know?’ That relationship is always really difficult, but in a sense it’s fun to sell myself to somebody and be like, ‘I do this all day. I think about this more than you do. I care about how it looks way more than you do.’”

A lot of people think their old piercings close up over time. Is that true?
“A lot of the time what happens is that the hole will shrink up and get tighter so when you try to put your jewellery in, it doesn’t fit. With the right tools, we can get in there and find the hole. It’s a lot easier than you think. You won’t have to go through the healing process, none of that crap. I spend a lot of time opening up holes. It’s there. Don’t be afraid!”

Why is the fashion crowd so obsessed with gold jewellery right now?
“I’ve been piercing since ’98. Back then, it was surgical steel and titanium—that’s what you’d get pierced with. For my generation growing up, we can afford nicer things. People understand more about jewellery than they ever did. 20-year-olds now have way better taste in jewellery than when I was 20. People are more in tune with what’s happening. Sometimes you think, ‘Yellow gold? That’s what my mother wears.’ Rose gold’s a good alternative to that. It’s soft. Silver stuff either looks so, ‘I’m in college and I got a piercing’ or ‘I’ve had this in for 10 years and I need to do something different.'”

What’s the most popular piercing you’re asked for?
“It changes daily. The smiley is one that I’ve been pushing a lot. I think it’s a good alternative for people who have had their septum pierced. A lot of people still have their septum and I still think it’s a really cool piercing. Sometimes, there’s a little bit of pushback. They’ll be like, ‘I was on the train and saw two other girls with their septum pierced. I want something different.’ Usually, if they’ve already had that, I’ll steer them into a smiley piercing. It’s a little edgy but it’s still delicate and pretty, like everything I do.”

Do you think that piercings on the runways at Fashion Week play a role in what you do?
“I think people are talking about [piercings]. I didn’t see anybody coming in trying to imitate [runway looks]. With runway stuff, it’s meant to be bold and in your face. What I do is the opposite of that. I’m more on the refined side of things. As far as piercings go, I’m on the conservative side. If somebody did come in and want something like [Rodarte brows], I’d probably try to talk them into something more aesthetically pleasing. I think fashion is very influential in getting people thinking about piercings, [though].”

How many piercings will you do in a sitting?
“I actually limit people to three in a sitting. If people want three, I’ll try to talk them into two. If people want to two, I’ll try to talk them into one.

Piercings are beautiful. You see the pictures on Instagram and then I get girls from Japan and Dubai who are like, ‘I want everything.’ What the pictures don’t say is that it’s a building process. It’s something that happens organically over a period of time. The piercing part is easy. Getting a piercing is something anybody can do.

The hard part is the healing process, which can take two to six months sometimes. There are ups and downs. The more you take from your body, the harder it is for your body to heal. I always am trying to think longterm with things. I also really like building relationships with people. ‘Let’s do this today and let it sit for a couple of months then come back and reevaluate the situation.’ I think that’s how piercings should be instead of being desperate and needing a look today. The reality is that you’re going to spend the next six months with a red, nasty-looking ear.”

Are any piercings now out of date or uncool?
“Not really. All the classic piercings are still pretty cool. I do feel that there’s a lot of out-of-date jewellery. With piercings, as with anything, it’s important to keep the jewellery relevant. As you grow, it’s gotta change with you. It’s something you wear all the time. I see people who have had the same navel piercing for 10 years and the same rook piercing for 10 years. I can always tell when somebody got a piercing by what jewellery is in it. You have to make your jewellery look like it belongs to your look.”

Are there any piercings you won’t do?
“Quite a [few]. It’s not so much what it is. People always want exactly what I can’t give them. They see it on somebody and say, ‘I want this exact thing.’ The anatomy is so different. Sometimes putting something in a certain place will be so uncomfortable. The body will never get used to it. You’re going to go through six months of excruciating, annoying times. You’re going to end up taking it out, so it’s a waste of your time and money. I really just try to guide people in a better direction using the anatomy and finding natural places to adorn. I’m trying to be honest. 99% of the time people are like, ‘Alright, yeah. You’re right.’ Every once in a while, I’ll hit a wall. They say, ‘I don’t really want this.’ I’m like, ‘You’re the one wearing it. I’m just in your life momentarily.’