If you ask J. Colby Smith, New York’s most in-demand body piercer, ear art is decidedly not having a moment. “Lots of ear piercings has always been cool,” says the 39-year-old, who splits his time between NY Adorned in the East Village and his private studio in Williamsburg. “There are just different points in time where different subcultures get into it.”
After seventeen years “in the game,” as he describes it, Smith pierces an average of thirty ears per day. He has worked on celebrities including Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, and Zoë Kravitz; tended to models such as Candice Swanepoel, Erin Wasson, and Imaan Hammam; and pierced most of New York’s fashion industry, from magazine editors and designers to street style stars.
Successful ear art, Smith says, is all about intentional balance — in the spacing of holes and the choice of earrings. “It’s about spreading things out so it doesn’t look crowded or cluttered,” he explains. “Your piercings should be a reflection of who you are and your aesthetic.”
Kravitz, who first visited Smith when she was eighteen, says he has methodically curated her jewelry over the past nine years to craft a “beautifully unique collection.” “Colby is a real artist. A real creative mind,” says the actress and singer. “People are attracted to his work because he’s not just going to put holes in you and take your money. He is going to actively participate in the adornment of your body.”
Originally from Salt Lake City, Smith began his piercing career in 1999. He believes social media, which “reaches the people who are unreachable,” has played a part in his packed schedule. “Instagram gets them thinking. I see so many people from faraway places like Japan, Australia, and Europe — they’ll post pictures, and then it becomes a talking point.”
Though he admits to traveling in fashion circles (“a lot of my friends are stylists, makeup artists, bloggers, and musicians,” he says), Smith takes pride in the “organic” nature of his career. Customers find him through word of mouth, each new “it” client upping his cool factor.
“I’ll pierce someone in the Vogue office and the next thing [my name] spreads like wildfire. I’ve never had a publicist,” he asserts. “People just come to me because they want something cool. That, and my style is classic — I do things that don’t make people feel squirmy when you look at it. That way you know, if you’re sixty or twenty, it’s going to look good.”
[This is part of the spring 2016 edition of Sheer, a quarterly style supplement by the Village Voice devoted to exploring and sharing the most dynamic elements of New York City’s fashion and design worlds, from the iconic to the as yet undiscovered. Check out the rest of Sheer’s featured stories here.]