Piercings were once synonymous with chunky, industrial jewellery placed haphazardly on ears, navels and noses. In the early ’90s, Maria Tash set out to transform the industry while still encouraging self-expression, but with an elegant approach. Utilising her background in science and penchant for design, she developed never-before-seen piercing methods and founded her first piercing studio in New York in 1993. Fast forward to 2023 and Maria is celebrating the opening of her latest boutique in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia which not only marks her fourth in the region but 10th permanent boutique worldwide. MOJEH talks to the piercing pioneer about starting a business, patenting innovative placements and the next steps in her regional takeover.
Congratulations on the Riyadh opening! What led you to expand to Saudi Arabia?
I am very excited to finally open a permanent location in Riyadh. MARIA TASH was invited to join the Via Riyadh project early in its conception, and I am very happy with its emphasis on luxury brands, and their marketing advertisements. I also like our neighbour, the St Regis Hotel, which is one of my favourite places to stay. The mall itself is very new right now, and I think it will grow into one of the premier destinations for luxury in the region. I also appreciate the design of Via Riyadh itself: a unique combination of Salmani architecture and urban style.
How do Middle Eastern clientele differ from other regions? Are there any region-specific jewellery or piercing trends you have noticed?
My Middle East clients love bold diamond pieces for all areas of the body, and are not afraid to get multiple piercings. They also like the large silhouette-cut diamonds (a shape I have cut for the brand) as well as our floating diamond tassel earrings.
You have pioneered luxury piercings and have shattered stereotypes surrounding piercings, particularly in the region. What were your goals when you first launched the Maria Tash brand?
I opened my first studio, Venus Modern Body Arts, in Manhattan’s East Village in the 90s and there was very little available on the market for elegant jewellery applied to the body. The industry was full of thick steel rings and barbells, most of which you could not even take out without the help of pliers or another person. The look was mainly loud and industrial. I knew I wanted to improve upon many parts of the industry. Much of my work has been to develop new elegant and beautiful jewellery for all parts of the body that has not been seen before by utilising my years of piercing experience and my deep understanding of what works in the body. The aim was to get the jewellery thinner, develop seamless mechanisms to be able to take jewellery in and out easily, have the pieces be very comfortable for continuous wear, and have beautiful designs sit very low to the body.
As the jewellery improved, piercings housing these designs looked artful and elegant, and the public’s attitude towards piercing became more accepted and positive. It became less about any shock value and more about beauty and fashion. Now the jewellery inspires the location of where to get pierced, whereas before it was all about the location and the jewellery was whatever was available. Piercing techniques and tools have also improved immensely over this period.
How did you create new placements such as the Tash Hidden Rook and Tash Helix? What does the jewellery design process look like for complicated or hidden placements?
These new locations involve jewellery I invented specifically for those locations to evoke a sense of mystery, emergence, motion, and beauty. I wanted people to see the effect and think “Wow, that’s beautiful – how does that work?”. I was inspired by hidden interior lighting techniques where light emerges out of gaps between moulding and the wall. I looked at the ear and thought about places that are underutilised and underappreciated, and how I could play with emergence and movement. The Tash Helix and Hidden Tash Rook were born out of these thoughts and inspirations.
To achieve the look for the new Tash Helix and Tash Hidden Rook piercings, I developed a wire, chain, and thread combination to be the new mechanics that hide and house the part of the jewellery that becomes noticeable. These parts were well thought out and arc precisely with the curl of the Helix and the curvature under the Rook. I experimented with different arcs and lengths, and utilised my signature Tash threading to make the pieces comfortable for everyday wear.
What makes the perfect curated ear?
The perfect Curated Ear is not tied to any one person. I’m often inspired and impressed by the layering and combinations that happen in my stores due to the synergistic creativity between the stylists, clients and piercers. Staff has come up with new ways to combine elements that I have not previously thought of, and is both clever and unique. Part of the reason we have so many skus is so that every client can leave and feel they have a look that is unique to them and resonates with their own anatomy, style, and personal story. Great curation is impressive and memorable and there are many ways to achieve it. It can be several elements emerging out of uncommon areas of the ear with no emphasis on the lobes. It can be very well paired, and precisely angled earlobe piercings with rings whose diameters are so well fit the eye glides up the ear and showcases the best features of the wearer. It can be that the pieces of jewellery relate to each other in a story and utilise different planes of ear tissue to create the perception of a story plus distance perspective like different sizes of diamond stars and moons to create a depth similar to a deep space effect. The perfect Curated Ear is as varied and unique as our clients.
You have many celebrity clients. Whose curated ear is most replicated?
There are so many to note but some are Rihanna, Ashley Graham, Blake Lively, Dua Lipa, and Maluma.
Which Maria Tash jewellery piece is your go-to?
My floating diamond tassel earrings are special because they are so lightweight, full of sparkle and movement, and they have many pear diamonds which are one of my favorite shapes. I wear them every day, sometimes in my lobes, or in my helix when I want them to be a supporting actor to an even larger pair of earrings in my lobes.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I usually wake up automatically around 7:30 to 8am unless I have been up very late the night before. I have a large, comfortable king size canopy bed with silk chiffon drapes on the canopy and satin pillowcases. I treasure my time in my bed and don’t get out of it quickly. Once I do get out and into the shower, I try to remember to think of what I am grateful for because I think it gives me a calmer demeanor in the midst of stressful meetings and decisions later in the day. If I have been proactive and planned what I wear the night before, which is efficient, then I have time to do a 12-minute arm workout video on YouTube before I get dressed, put on my makeup, and head to the office.
I’m not an early-to-the-office person. I get to the office around 11am and I work until late in the evening. I’ve always worked better in the later hours. I meet daily with leaders of each area of business and then spend a lot of time working closely with the design team. I’m passionate about creating and refining designs—and I love digging into costing as it lets me flex my maths muscles.
What is your advice for female entrepreneurs?
You are stronger and more capable than you think you are, and don’t get so stressed out about disappointments. Do not let others, especially romantic interests, derail you from your dreams or confidence.
What’s next for Maria Tash in the region?
In the upcoming year, my goal is to expand my company’s presence both domestically and internationally. Presently, my team is engaged in captivating projects across various markets, which we are eagerly preparing to reveal in the near future. Additionally, I have ambitious plans to curate an exquisite collection of custom jewellery exclusively tailored for the Middle Eastern region. Shop MARIA TASH jewellery here
- Interview by Savanna Smith