She’s Pierced Every Ear in Hollywood

Kylie. Cardi. Rihanna. Taylor. In three decades, Maria Tash has built an earring empire for every big name you can think of.

Image of Maria Tach in an organic shape over a cream background with an earring overlayed
(Image credit: Future)

Kylie Jenner couldn’t wear just any earrings to the make-up Met Gala held in September 2021. Jenner’s stylists (and sisters) Alexandra and Mackenzie Grandquist wanted Jenner’s ears to drip with streams of floating diamonds. They decided only one person could realize their vision for fully decked-out lobes on fashion’s biggest night: New York City designer-slash-piercer Maria Tash.

Tash had landed on the Grandquists’ radar the way thousands of other eventual clients had: seeing the custom stacks of hoops, drop earrings, and cartilage studs she had created for another A-list fan. In their case, Tash’s work with Rihanna was the main draw.

“We're just like, oh my God, Rihanna obviously is the coolest and we just love how everything Maria does is so edgy, but yet so pretty. It’s perfectly elevated but also not so traditional,” Mackenzie says on a call with me in early June, her sister sitting with her on the other end of the line. “She made us all of these custom pink floating diamonds that stuck with a magnet to the ear. She crushed it.”

There was one catch. The earrings wouldn’t actually make it to the red carpet, due to a change in RSVP. Disappointing as it was, Jenner’s absence didn’t cause a shortage in Tash sightings at the Met Gala or elsewhere. To paraphrase summer 2024’s biggest saying, she’s your favorite artist’s favorite piercer, anyway.

Images of Florence Pugh, Rihanna, and Kylie Jenner in Maria Tash Earrings

Florence Pugh, Rihanna, and Kylie Jenner are just a few of the many celebrities who've worn Maria Tash's diamond jewelry on the red carpet.

(Image credit: Future)

Names from Doja Cat to Kim Kardashian, and of course, Rihanna, have entrusted Tash with red carpet-ifying their piercings since the mid 2010s. Momentum hasn’t slowed in 2024, shortly after Tash’s thirtieth business anniversary. Newly anointed It Girls like Florence Pugh and Ayo Edebiri have lined their cartilages with tiny, Tash-cut diamonds for recent global press tours. When Taylor Swift branched out from her demure single-lobe piercings to debut up to three holes on each ear in 2023, they included Tash’s dainty diamond hoops. Just last week, Cardi B unveiled three new piercings, all from Tash's Los Angeles studio alongside a fresh pixie cut. While there are definitely other jewelry brands who land in A-listers’ earring lineup, there aren’t many who are also often responsible for the piercings themselves.

The Grandquists would eventually get to work with Tash again on projects for Kylie as varied as custom earrings for magazine photoshoots, more red carpet pieces, and even birthday jewelry modeled off a scan of Kylie’s eyes. The stylists would also get pierced at Tash’s Los Angeles studio—along with clients as young as five and as old as seventy, across four continents and several boutiques. Tash might be the one on every celebrity’s radar, but her piercing empire is even more expansive than the names modeling her work.

I like to think about how I can create an effect you haven't seen before.

Before Kylie Jenner had a Met Gala schedule to organize, before Rihanna’s custom earrings inspired Jenner’s stylists, and before anyone with two stylists and a personal assistant knew her name, Maria Tash was a Barnard College student buying her first piercing gun in the early 1990s. She’d grown up on Long Island taking up small design projects outside of school, with an inclination to build that seemed passed down from her engineer father, coiling spare wires into rings and crocheting bags out of metal.

On the side of her undergraduate studies, Tash invited friends over to her apartment and tested piercings in nearly every head-to-toe location you can think of in addition to ears: arms, belly buttons, even genitals. She also pierced herself from time to time.

Soon, she began taking out ads in the Village Voice inviting complete strangers into her living room for body jewelry of their own. Those RSVPs provided enough business to help her expand into a proper storefront: Venus Modern Body Arts, which she opened in the East Village in 1993.

“It was a lot of fun because the ‘90s were a very experimental era,” Tash tells me from what must be the 180-degree opposite of an at-home piercing parlor, across a table in her sun-soaked, high-ceilinged SoHo office in mid-May. “I think it was a lot more cowboy than it is now. It was very formative because I could do things like surface piercings on the arm and try different thicknesses and different lanes.”

We’re surrounded by white boards coated in dry-erase marker sketches that, from far away, could be mistaken for doodles of waxing and waning moons dotted with tiny craters. In actuality, they’re rough sketches that show the progress of all those ’90s experiments in Tash’s former living room: dozens of ways to take the same few square centimeters available on every ear and create a unique canvas for placing jewelry.

Then and now, Tash has treated piercing as both a science and a mode of self-expression. She excels at finding nooks and crannies in the ear that would seem impossible to decorate—and then calculating the precise angle a needle should enter the fold of cartilage to prove that assumption wrong. She fills those holes with jewelry she designs to seemingly drip and levitate, with pear-shaped diamonds floating from a piece of inner cartilage or two relatively distant gemstones connected across the ear by a delicate chain. "I love the idea of like emergence," she says. "You see it in interior design where light emerges out for a lot of things and you're like, oh, that's cool."

I think as a designer you always strive for people to be able to look at your stuff and go, ‘Oh, that's Maria Tash.’ I'd always known early on that was a goal.

There wasn't one client who doubled as a golden ticket to expanding beyond the ears of the East Village, Tash tells me. "I didn't have a clue about how to get PR or how to get in a department store. It was just a lot of work and honing my skill and then my relationship with my factory—being able to do new and identifiable pieces of jewelry and mechanisms." Tash had the opposite of overnight success: the kind that's a slow, but enduring, burn. Booked and busy weekends piercing at Venus Modern Body Arts turned into some press in print fashion magazines. Those clips led to a pop-up at a London hair salon that turned into wholesale orders with Net-a-Porter, and another pop-up at the department store Liberty. Those stores fueled enough business to open another store in the States, and so on.

Plenty of jewelry designers work with diamonds. Plenty of parlors pierce. It's the way Tash considers each individual jewelry setting with each individual's body that set her apart. “I like to think about how I can create an effect you haven't seen before,” Tash says. “And even with existing things, how can we sort of join them in clever ways that you haven't thought about?”

Tash has so far patented two piercing placements over her three decades in the game—the Tash Helix and the Tash Hidden Rook—and in a moment of pre-pandemic foresight, she even patented a virtual try-on technology to show potential clients how piercings look on their ears before the piercing needle is sterilized.

In other words, Maria Tash was earscaping years before it became an industry verb. And when heavy-metal, punk jewelry was all the rage in the ’90s, she preferred fine jewelry with near-invisible settings and diamonds cut to their most dazzling clarity—a look that’s imitated at all sorts of other jewelers and piercing brands now.

“I think as a designer you always strive for people to be able to look at your stuff and go, ‘Oh, that's Maria Tash.’ I'd always known early on that was a goal,” she says. The It Girl network of New York City nudged Tash in that direction, sending stylists, and then their model, actor, and musician clients, into her piercing chair. (Scroll to the first week of Maria Tash’s Instagram account, and you’ll see a #tbt of a young Chanel Iman shopping for earrings in her boutique, plus Tash on-set with the rap artist Trina, decked out in Tash’s diamonds, for her “Single Again” music video.)

It wasn’t until 2004, when Tash had moved out of the East Village and into her bigger boutique on Broadway that she had the courage to re-name her piercing parlor after herself. “I knew I wanted recognition for all the designs that I had done,” she says, “and I felt like that wasn't gonna happen unless I put my name on the door.”

Maria Tash shop

Maria Tash's studios are designed with comfortable seating areas and luxury furniture.

(Image credit: Future)

Tash still dresses like the proprietor of a bohemian-glam East Village boutique, glowing in a white two-piece suit with a beaded silver belt, long, cascading curls down to her waist, and ears stacked with several of her own diamonds while we meet. These days, her schedule resembles one of a corner-office CEO instead of a renegade earring artist. And, she clarifies with a husky laugh, she would not pierce herself today.

She’s handed off most day-to-day execution of the “Tash Difference” to a team of piercers in more than a dozen boutiques, from New York to Los Angeles to Dubai. (If a close friend is coming to get pierced when she’s in town, Tash will advise from the sidelines.) Her stores are half-showroom for the silver, rose gold, and gold-set fine jewelry she designs, half-piercing salon with discrete appointment areas in the back or upstairs.

The slow-and-steady, word-of-mouth growth that took Tash international wasn’t just celebrity-driven. For every big name wearing her pieces to a red carpet on Instagram—from singers to actors to KarJenners—there are twice as many close-ups of civilians wearing Tash piercings. Some women tag the studio while they’re splurging on debut cushion-cut studs for the debut base of their lobes; others come in with a friend for their second, third, or eighth placement and a star-shaped stud to match. Tash piercings can even be a multigenerational affair: A teen daughter, her mom, and her mom’s mom all came in to get pierced—and filmed in the process—at Tash’s new Houston, Texas boutique, last week.

For Mackenzie Grandquist, half of Kylie Jenner’s styling team, Tash’s appeal beyond the world of celebrity is obvious. “She really caters to so many different people because she has the edge, but she also has those classic, beautiful pieces that literally you don't even have to take out of your ear. You could have them for probably one hundred years, and they would still look amazing.”

“It's almost the perfect jewelry to mix in with a simple outfit: You have your diamond, it still feels edgy and elevated, but it works with every outfit,” her sister Alexandra adds.

“I still enjoy the celebrity placements but to me, that is not what pays the bills,” Tash says. “I'll just let you know: I'm a self-purchasing female and I'm gonna get all teary with this”—she pauses, indeed wiping away a few tears, “and getting to see yourself mirrored in your customer is really special.”

Tash took initiative tinkering with her piercings in her apartment all those years ago. She didn’t wait for someone else's green light to follow her passion then, and she doesn’t ask permission to keep going with her business now.

You could have them for probably one hundred years, and they would still look amazing.

When Tash then tells me she’ll never get tired of her jewelry, I believe she means it. It’s easy to imagine her heading into her fortieth or fiftieth business anniversary behind the same SoHo desk, surrounded by diagrams and plotting some new piercing type an ear’s limited real estate still has yet to reveal. “It's so beautiful and I've created this field where people can have control of how they look and it's an artistic expression—it's malleable as you change and evolve yourself,” she says. “I still find that very intriguing.”

And if there's truly nowhere else to pierce, she'll probably break new ground in tech or tools for the prep or healing processes. (Judging by the virtual try-on tech and her all about angles training regimen, she thinks as much about the before and after as the literal needle-in-ear piercing.)

All Tash’s inventions and patents boil down to something that’s beautifully simple: diamond piercings that get noticed and not just at the Met Gala. As the Grandquist sisters go about their lives in Los Angeles, handling the daily demands of styling modern Hollywood royalty, “People will compliment our earrings and placements all the time,” Alexandra says. “And we’re always like, it’s Maria Tash.”

It's a straight line to her nearest studio from there. Inquiring minds can find one in an instant, since Tash's name is on the door.

This story is part of Piercing Is All Grown Up, a package exploring the trends, artists, and brands shaping piercing today. You can read all five stories here.

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Halie LeSavage
Senior News Editor (Fashion & Beauty)

Halie LeSavage is the senior fashion and beauty news editor at Marie Claire, where she assigns, edits, and writes stories for both sections. Halie is an expert on runway trends, celebrity style, emerging fashion and beauty brands, and shopping (naturally). In over seven years as a professional journalist, Halie’s reporting has ranged from fashion week coverage spanning the Copenhagen, New York, Milan, and Paris markets, to profiles on industry insiders including stylist Alison Bornstein and J.Crew womenswear creative director Olympia Gayot, to breaking news stories on noteworthy brand collaborations and beauty launches. (She can personally confirm that Bella Hadid’s Ôrebella perfume is worth the hype.) She has also written dozens of research-backed shopping guides to finding the best tote bags, ballet flats, and more. Most of all, Halie loves to explore what trends—like the rise of doll-like Mary Janes or TikTok’s 75 Hard Style Challenge—can say about culture writ large. (She justifies almost any purchase by saying it’s “for work.”) Halie has previously held writer and editor roles at Glamour, Morning Brew, and Harper’s Bazaar. Halie has been cited as a fashion and beauty expert in The Cut, CNN Underscored, and Reuters, among other outlets, and appears in newsletters like Selleb and Self-Checkout to provide shopping recommendations. In 2022, she was awarded the Hearst Spotlight Award for excellence and innovation in fashion journalism. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Harvard College. Outside of work, Halie is passionate about books, baking, and her miniature Bernedoodle, Dolly. For a behind-the-scenes look at her reporting, you can follow Halie on Instagram and TikTok.