By Jessica Bumpus
Maria Tash is the jewellery world’s piercing queen and has been for over 20 years. The native New Yorker is sitting in her new office with a view of Manhattan behind her. She is wearing a pink-ish top which matches a sweep of pink-ish eye shadow and her ears sparkle with her trademark piercings, or what she refers to as “jazz” throughout our conversation. So comfortable is her curated ear – a term she coined – that she sleeps with all of her piercings. She takes out a helix earring to show how easy it is to switch things up. “I actually tend to be personally on the fancier side on a day by day, I just like it like that,” she says.
Her finger flashes with a blue pear-shaped tanzanite and she swings in her chair as she talks, takes a piece of chewing gum and reels off with speed and ease an encyclopaedic knowledge of jewellery, techniques, her business, which has been going since 1993. She opened her first studio in Manhattan’s East Village and has, she thinks, been getting piercings since 1985.
“I think I have a high pain threshold,” she says. “That doesn’t mean you have to have high pain threshold to do it. I think if you want something and you can deal with the sensation of getting blood drawn do it.” And points out this way at least you get some jewellery out of it. I laugh. It’s true. “I used to pride myself a little bit on like, especially with the tattoos [taking the pain]. I’m a little bit more of a pussy than I was in my 20s when it comes to pain but you know I don’t think about the pain. I think about the final effect.”
That said, she doesn’t dispute that if you could get to the point “where we could do this and it’s in” that would be great. And she is currently exploring various techniques and technology for that to happen. “The old-school piercers [they] see [the pain] it’s as a rite of passage. No man, that punk rock attitude, imagine if your surgeon felt like that. No. No.”
It is Maria Tash’s background in piercing and body jewellery that has made her brand unique, and also very cool. “I think I design jewellery that can be worn continuously,” she says. “I’m very mindful of how heavy stuff is, too. I really worry about how low profile items are.” Which is why she does very minimalist settings, like floating or invisible and is adamant about not having settings like claws and prongs that catch on clothes. “It just drives me nuts,” she says. She will also worry about what the backs are like. “I’m going to really pay attention to the item 360 degrees.”
Tash studied at Columbia University in New York before moving abroad to King’s College in London. A love for jewellery came from her mother and was coupled with a penchant for piercing. Observing a gap in the market, Tash began creating custom naval jewellery.
In 2004, she opened her flagship store in New York and in 2016 the brand began international expansion. A shop at Liberty opened – and a frenzy of people wanting her stylish and modern piercings ensued (I confess, I was one of them). Since then, Tash has opened up locations in Dublin, Harrods London, and Dubai with plans for more. Her celebrity clients include Rihanna, Zoë Kravitz, Blake Lively and Jennifer Lawrence.
“I sketch mostly,” she says of how her ideas come to life and will typically work with someone to translate that into the computer. “I think I’ve a very good sense of – I’ve been piercing so many years – like differences in millimetres and even a couple tenths of a millimetre. I kind of know. But even when I’m thinking about the ear and how am I going to put something in a certain space, [a] place on it, and have it be comfortable, like what is the effect I’m trying to create?”
“Some of the early designs kind of look a little [like a] necklace. It’s a chain with like a solitaire, very classic jewellery, right? But you’ve never seen it all suspended up in Tash Helix,” she explains, her mind whirring as she explains and thinks it all through. “How light does it need to be? How the heck are you going to execute the piercing? What are you going to put on the back? How thick should the post be? What’s the curvature that’ll fit most people? How long is that curve that is going over there? Is that different than what’s going on to here, the length and the curvature, and all these sorts of things and then you go from there.”
Her time is spent between being a CEO and a designer. “Embarrassingly I think the CEO takes more time than the design, which is more fun, but it’s necessary and I don’t like to be out of the loop on anything.” Suddenly she’s wondering where a report from a recent pop-up is. “I need to know what’s happening, even if it’s a small scale.” She’ll spend time with various leaders in the office and then have chunks of time scheduled for design time.
She isn’t really into trends but over the years, she says, the tongue piercing and nipple piercing has died down. “Whenever I hear that word [trend] a part of me just wants to recoil – maybe because I’ve been doing way I’ve been doing for so long and we tend to be more evergreen.” She says: “I think if you design towards a hectic modern Western lifestyle, you’re good. Like in other words, things that are not too bulky, that are only event oriented, things that you can sleep in that are comfortable.” Comfort, she points out, “is something that’s not going to be trending.”
Her own style, she notices, is pointy. “I love pear shape” she says. “I was like realising all my tattoos from the past come to a point, I didn’t do it like, like deliberately,” she laughs. “So I like spiky, pointy. A lot of it is also like how do you make a diamond spike? All those things. Sort of kite shaped, shield shapes, elongated things that come to a point [is] a lot of what I’m working on and working with.”
She also has a penchant for unappreciated areas of the ear and a thing for recessed lighting. “Really the motivation is a lot of interior design with recessed lighting just really like things emerging very minimally,” she says. Though had she not gone down the jewellery pathway, she’s inclined to think medicine as opposed to interior design would have more been more the option.
“But when I was younger, I don’t know, part of me thought I would go into medicine for a while and I thought about plastic surgery. But I didn’t want to do boob jobs,” she says. “So I didn’t do it. But I think I had the brains I could have gone into it but I didn’t do it. But I’m very happy now. I mean I get to you know create what I think of and then people get excited about it and feel better wearing it. It’s amazing.”
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