He pierced style gurus Emily Weiss and Zoe Kravitz and is a hippie at heart: J. Colby smith is not only the coolest but also the sweetest and calmest piercer I know. Truth is; as soon as I know I’m headed for the Big Apple, I start googling ‘ear piercing placement’ and figuring out what I want Colby to do next. (There’s always more room for subtle gold and diamonds). You’ve probably seen the beautiful work he did on my own ears and when I was in New York a while back, I couldn’t help but stop by. We chatted about piercings, pain and the love for his job.
Connecting different piercings with little chains really put you on the map. How do you feel about that now?
Colby: “The chain piercings have led to a crazy change. Normally, people would come to me and say: ‘I want to get my ear pierced. What should I put in?’ Now they are getting their ears pierced, just because they want a chain. The decision-making is backwards: I’m helping them figure out what’s the right place for a piece of jewellery.”
How do you decide which piercings suit your client best?
Colby: “I look for references in each ear. I read this book about shamans once, how they walk through the jungle while they study each unique plant and look for its little secrets. I think of ears in the same way. Every ear is different and if I listen carefully to what it has to say, the piercings are generally better placed and heal better too. And yes, I’m a hippie.”
Do you give your clients freedom to make their own decisions?
Colby: “I try to make all my clients look the best they possibly can. People who know what they want, don’t always want to hear my opinion, though. I do want to give them freedom to decide, but their decisions aren’t always the best way to go. So I try to be honest and at least guide them in the right direction.”
Piercings are all about finding the right balance. What does a well-balanced ear look like to you?
Colby: “It’s all about spreading things out, so it doesn’t look crowded or cluttered. I want everything to look intentional, not like ‘I just got a piercing, but then I went to Mexico and I got one over there too.’ A well-balanced ear needs to have a float to it, a good mix. Your piercings should be a reflection of who you are and should match the rest of your aesthetic.”
How do you feel about mixing different types of gold?
Colby: “I prefer not to, because I like things to be tied together. I like everything to have continuity. But what I like and what my client wants, isn’t always the same thing. I don’t have a lot with rose gold, for example, which is huge right now. Still, there are ways to mix materials and make it look good and intentional.”
How would you do that?
Colby: “It’s all about keeping things really close together. For example, if you were going to do two rings next to each other in yellow gold and rose gold, they should have the same shape, the same size and have the same symmetry. When they’re almost the same but still slightly different, it looks more intentional.”
Is symmetry an important thing to you?
Colby: “I think that we’re conditioned to think that both ears have to look similar, as if you were looking at them in a mirror. Personally, I like the idea of asymmetry better. Each ear and each hole is a chance to do something totally distinctive.”
What are places in the ear that you think are a bit more unusual to go for?
Colby: “Everyone’s comfort level is different. Earlobes, the soft part of your ear, are like a safe zone. No one is going to react with ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you did that’ if you pierce there. I think there are ways to do simple earlobe piercings and still make them unique.”
Does it hurt?
Colby: “It doesn’t feel good, but a slight annoyance is the best way to describe it. Through my career I’ve learned one thing: woman are incredibly strong. I see girls walk in here in shoes that look amazing, but make them limp from pain. Piercing is not even on the same scale. It’s something that’s scary to think about, but that’s actually very easy.”
And the healing process, it takes a lot longer than most people think, right? Colby: “Patient people do very well with piercings, impatient people do not. The thing about piercings is that the healing process is never the same; it’s like a roll of the dice. But in general, I find that people who are negative about it are the ones that always end up having a problem. The people that are excited and positive when they go into it come out super easy.”
So it depends on your state of mind too?
Colby: “I really think it does. People come in, and I try to get them situated into the right state of mind to receive a piercing. It’s the hardest part of my job, but it’s really important. Otherwise it’s just not a good experience, not for them and not for me.”
What do you love about your work most?
Colby: “My days are never the same. It’s not just people’s ears that are different, it’s their personalities too. It all comes down to the energy people give off. That’s what I’m addicted to, the social, psychological part.”
Image by Winnie Au via Refinery29