Celebrity piercer Maria Tash has transformed the art of the curated ear with her own-name fine jewelry brand and global piercing places. At the opening of her Dubai mall store, she talks to Sorbet about the legacy she accidentally created. 
Q: You’re the first reputable piercer to have opened in the UAE, maybe even the Middle East. What made you decide to launch your own place here?

A: We held a pop-up here two years ago and there was a really formidable reception so I felt it was a no-brainer to open a boutique here. We designed the store with the local clientele in mind – we have a VIP room where people can come in, take off their headscarves if they want to and have privacy while trying on pieces. We also have an all-female piercing staff for example too. The store is heavily female-run and that’s different from the rest of the world. Actually, female piercers are much rarer, so sourcing people willing to relocate here and training them in the style of the brand and my aesthetic was a big process. It took us a while.

Q: You’ve changed the landscape of piercing. Was that something you set out to do originally?

A: No. I just said I want to see this out there, so I’ll do it. I asked myself, “What is the alternative to big, ugly steel jewelry? Why does it have to be so thick?” It came from part common sense and part from the fact that I did not love the jewelry that I had to wear for piercing. I just wanted to try to create beautiful piercings and see if would heal. That’s how it all started.

Q: Was it a lot of kind of experimenting on friends, or on yourself?

A: Back in the 1990s, the rule was that the jewelry you were pierced with had to be at 1.6mm thick or it wouldn’t heal. So, I asked myself, why? I did a lot of my super early work and experimentation on myself. We also did our own experiments on clients back then too. Can you imagine? If people wanted something we were like: “Sure, let’s try it; I like that idea, go for it”. I’m amazed at what people entrusted me to do, I can’t even tell you. I’d do piercings out of my own house before I even had a store. People would come to my Manhattan apartment in a snow storm. I remember I thought, “Wow, if they would do this, it would work as a business!”

Q: You must have had such interesting relationships with people for them to trust you?

A: For sure. I have so many empowering stories, like for example someone who’d had heart surgery, I pierced around their scar; I used to do all sorts of crazy stuff. Our job was to make people feel better about themselves.

Q: In the 1990s, you’d have to go to a grunge place to get pierced and hope you didn’t get infected, or go to Claire’s Accessories….

A: Totally. The problem is that the people who brought attention to piercings were based in San Francisco and it was focused around heavy bondage and S&M, and I did not identify with it; it was not what I was into, even though I was a piercer. The piercing culture was almost like a weight-lifter contest too. The thicker the piece, the cooler and stronger you are.

Q: When did you notice a shift in what people wanted?

A: I think it started to evolve as a lot of stylists and fashion people were travelling to different piercers around the world, and came to my small shop in the East Village and carried the word. They are some of the earliest people to come in and they brought it to the people they were working on – the celebrities and models – and then it just took off.

Q: Is there a moment you’ve been most proud of?

A: When I finally took the leap to leave the East Village, and open a shop on Broadway in 2004. The Editor-at-Large for British Vogue wrote about the opening, and then that led to us opening a pop-up in Liberty London which then turned permanent, which then led to international accounts. Netà- Porter president, Alison Loehnis, got pierced with us and then shortly after we were stocked on their site. It’s been such an organic process.

Q: What’s your favorite sorbet flavor?

A: Raspberry.