At a shop in the heart of Noho, Ashley Carment is calming the nerves of a twentysomething facial-piercing virgin. A tatted-up Queen Midas, she leaves everyone she touches with something gold (or silver, or titanium) embedded in his or her body. “This will pinch a little,” she’ll say right before sticking a needle through her client. And she’s usually right. Between the adrenaline and her light touch, the piercing process is just a blip before the grand reveal.
Carment started her apprenticeship at Revolver Tattoo in New Jersey nearly a decade ago and has since become one of the most trusted piercers in New York, hooking up everyone from teens with squeamish moms to Soho-hopping celebs like Anna Paquin. While the vibe at her current home of Venus by Maria Tash (653 Broadway, Manhattan) is more highbrow, with the ornate, often imported pieces that make it a boutique rather than a shop, Carment brings a youthful and disarming ebullience, like a Powerpuff Girl with a piercing needle.
Her goal is not just to comfort customers while encouraging physical modes of expression, but, she says, to “make people love themselves a little better” by adorning parts of their bodies with jewelry crafted from high quality metal. “People come in and they want to add something to a body part that maybe wasn’t their favorite before,” she says. “I get to help them do that.” Carment sees piercings as extensions of her clients’ personalities, allowing them to become the most authentic versions of themselves.
Her own favorite piercing? Her inner conch, the central cartilage of the ear, which boasts a small stud — a piercing that she notes was a less painful experience than some in more innocuous-looking places. Carment is a nontraditional ear piercer, and her Instagram (@acarment) boasts countless pictures of piercings everywhere but the lobe — conchs, traguses, and rooks galore.
Carment also serves as a mystical medicine woman — the one you want to drop in on if a piercing is acting up. “That just looks a little angry,” she’ll say about something grisly. “I’m pretty sure I can fix it.” She’s genuinely concerned, offers natural remedies (“Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented soap is the best,” she claims), and commiserates, which is just the right antidote if an infection hits.
In a city where piercing spots are as prevalent as bodegas, the process sometimes tends to be cold, and piercers even colder. Carment squashes that stereotype, adding softness and ritual to what seems mundane to her peers: penetrating metal through human parts. And as many times a day as she does it, she’ll still make you feel like the only one.