[as originally published on forbes.com]
The first time I had my ears pierced, I was eight years old. All of my friends already had cute little earrings and I began to scotch tape cut outs of flowers, stars and moons to my lobes. My mother quickly told me to take the scotch tape off of my ears—and that I would have to wait until I was 14—an arbitrary age she chose, which was followed by "because I said so."
Not one to give up, I did when any eight year old would do, I stomped around for dramatic emphasis, pouted and then I went over my mother's head to her mom, my grandmother who took one look at my paper cuts-outs and promptly took me to a jewelry store near where she lived in Brooklyn. I almost changed my mind and passed out when I saw the 'gun' but she held my hand, talked about the pretty little 18K twisted wire hoops I longed for and that she would buy for me once it was done. Back then 'the gun' was the ear piercing tool of choice and the earrings I had to wear for the first eight weeks were thankfully small, yet definitely not attractive surgical steel studs until I could change to the delicate hoops of my dreams. My mom felt manipulated and decided to scare me in graphic detail about infections and other really dramatic things that never happened. Although the hole in left lobe is a tad higher than my right.
The next time I had my ears pierced was in high school, almost 30 years ago. I wanted an asymmetrical look and let some guy named Vinny pierce one more hole in my right ear and two more in my left with a sewing needle and ice. So much for my mom's scare tactics. But during my 30s when friends had their helix and conch piercings, my mother’s voice jumped into my head and I was happy with wearing studs, hoops and antique single and double drops climbing up my lobes without touching any part of my cartilage.
Yet, with the earring renaissance of the past few years only getting stronger, more and more luxury piercing parties and women from ages 20-60 getting new piercings (now called ear curation or styling), and the plethora of pretty feminine earrings by talented designers which could be worn in constellation like formations, I began contemplating getting into the game.
So when I received an invite to see LA’s celebrity piercing guru , Brian Keith Thompson owner and chief piercer at the internationally famous Melrose Avenue’s Body Electric Tattoo in action at The Couture Show during Las VegasJewelry Week, I replied yes in an instant. The Istanbul, trend driven fine jewelry brand Kismet by Milka, and Thompson collaborated on an exclusive collection of 30 pairs of earrings Kismet by Milka X Brian Keith Thompson. To launch the collection, designer and owner Milka Karaağaçlı ingeniously took over a villa suite for a piercing party at the Wynn where The Couture Show is held, and scheduled piercings by Thompson himself. While these events are often part of the trend towards ‘experience’ retailing, this was the first trade event that employed this type of model to attract buyers and journalists to view the new line. And it worked. For three days at the show, press and retailers stopped in to view the new earrings as well as other designers and their teams. They all joined in the spirit and choose from the diverse selection of 14K gold and gemstone earrings, while they chatted, traded advice on how many more piercings they should get and the styles of studs or tiny hoops from which to select (at industry prices). Thompson’s schedule was booked. I ran into longtime friend and retailer Jennifer Gandia of Greenwich St. Jewelers who talked about carrying the line and having her own piercing party in her NYC-based shop, while deciding if she should get one or two piercings.
She opted for two and that was it for me. It was time for me to join the ear party. I asked Thompson where he thought I could fit another in my lobes, without hitting cartilage or piercing the tragus or conch of my ear. Those spots might add to lobe piercings as the perfect vibe for my 23 year-old niece and my Los Angeles- based friends but as much as I wanted a new look, I am still more of a traditionalist when it comes to styling my ears. He suggested since I wear predominately antique single and double drop earrings to go for a symmetrical look and have three in each ear rather than two and one. I thought about I how this could emphasize how I was already ‘curating’ my lobes, graduating from larger to smaller and I could still wear a small stud at the top or different styles of drops or mix in modern with antique.
My favorite part was that this was the first ear piercing I would get with a pretty earring that I would need to wear for “12 weeks” before changing. I chose a dainty emerald center stud with a cluster of tiny petals in a floral motif. Jennifer held my hand and it was done and Thompson was giving me a mirror and directions about what not to do while a line for his services was building. I was handed a lengthy full page sheet of how to care for my lobe and my new earring—the type my mother would have made for me to avoid even the most minor problem or infection and ensure a smooth transition into changing to other earrings in 12 weeks.
When I asked Thompson what his most popular curations are at present he said, “delicate diamond studs and motifs like stars or tiny floral designs, dainty gold hoops and created in a constellation style pattern which is very feminine or edgy depending on the earrings you wear.
As Jennifer Gandia and I walked to the other end of the show with our freshly pierced ears, I asked her why she thought the ear parties and piercings continue to go strong, “It’s the perfect way to combine shopping and experience. All ages can participate and you can have birthday parties, Mother’s day events with moms, daughters sister and friends all coming together.” And it’s self-purchase and perfect for the women who loves to style with jewelry.” She explains
As Jennifer speaks, I can see bridal events in which the bride purchases her maid of honor and bridesmaids earrings as their wedding party gifts.
There are jewelry retailers that have been on the cutting edge of ear piercing parties such as Ylang 23, who is traditionally ahead of the curve. These type of events are helping the Ylang 23 boutiques secure new clients in a younger demographic. Known for high end jewelry, the introduction of piercing parties has added an approachability factor to the brick and mortar stores. “Two and half years ago, we tapped into a major trend and customer desire by curating hundreds of ears and completing thousands of piercings, explains Alysa Teichman, VP of business development. And today, we see no signs of it dying down, she continues. “Our customers are constantly finding new areas of the ear to pierce and fun ways to change out their existing ear stories. “
Designers such as Maria Tash who is a proponent of the more is more ear curation and is one of the leading designers in multiple earrings schedules ear piercings in her own stores and in stores in which her collection is carried.
Other designers and retailers continue to jump on the bandwagon, in a retail space that is still open in different areas of the country.
“There will continue to be new generations of women who want to achieve this type of ear adornment as well as our customers who continue to add to their looks with our ever evolving collections ,” Karaağaçlı concludes.