Making Hard-Core Piercing High Fashion

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1_JColbySmith01_038Photographed by Winnie Au

Piercings have never been a trend for 13-year industry vet J. Colby Smith, yet the kinder, gentler style he created and perfected is having a real moment. You may have noticed his work adorning the noses of Laurel Pantin or Abbey Lee Kershaw and celebrity clients — Erin Wasson, Emma Stone, Zoë Kravitz, Ali Michael, Olivia Thirlby, and Julianne Moore (really) — have come to him for piercings that are miles away from the bars and bolts of the '90s. Elegant, classic, and artful, they're not subversive because they're disruptive, semi-masochistic body art; they're subversive because they're an entirely new kind of beautiful.

We grabbed the passionate yet almost mystically laid-back Smith at his place of work, the amazing New York Adorned, to discuss his long road from piercing hard-core kids out West to decorating the bodies of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Rashida Jones along with the future (yes, future) of piercing. Hold still — this won't hurt a bit.

New Town, New Tricks
"I grew up in Utah where I was involved in a lot of political awareness campaigns and music. Out there, tattoos, piercings, and loud music went hand in hand. I always had friends who were tattoo artists or piercers — I guess I was in the know and open to anything. About eight years ago, I had an opportunity to come to New York. Not to sound cliché, but it felt like I was being pulled here, so I let the current take me. Since I’ve arrived, everything has opened up for me, including working with new materials like gold and diamonds — the higher end of things. Also, when I first came to New York Adorned, I was exposed to a whole world of jewelry. All that attracted a new caliber of clientele.”
2_JColbySmith02_050Photographed by Winnie Au

Creative Exchange
“I’ve been at my fair share of tattoo shops and piercing studios, and New York Adorned has really set itself apart. The owner, Lori Leven, is a visionary in her own right. She can recognize talent, see things in people before they see it in themselves. She’s stocked Adorned with pretty amazing artists, so I’m working around truly talented people, which only pushes me to be more creative. We all feed off of each other. Also, every 20 or 30 minutes, I have someone new on my table. All kinds of different personalities in a somewhat intimate, kind of intense situation. So many of my clients are creative in their own ways. They actually inspire me.”

The World Wide Web
“I’ve been piercing celebrities and models for years. The list is big and goes on and on. But Emily Weiss from Into the Gloss was the first person that actually came along and said, ‘I think what you’re doing is really cool. I want to show other people.’ She was my cheerleader. I feel like I had it locked down in New York, but she put me onto the international scene and opened me up to the rest of the world.”

Piercing For 2023
“I could probably do this with my eyes closed. But there’s always room for improvement in any trade. Right now, I’m rethinking the whole process, taking it apart and seeing what makes it tick. I’ve been looking at how jewelry actually fits into piercings and trying to find new ways to work with that. You know, it’s really hard to invent a new earring. Fashion changes; piercing will change. As long as it stays refined, classic, and elegant, there will always be a place for it. I worked really hard to put myself in this unique position, so [I] just want to keep myself relevant. Right now, I’m not really focused on the present; I’m five, 10 years out.”

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Grooming by Bethany Brill


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