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Pierced to Perfection: An Interview with Maria Tash

If you’ve never heard of Maria Tash, you most definitely would have seen many ears curated by her expert teams, full of unique piercings in exquisite diamond and gold jewelry.

Multiple piercings have been around for years and prevalent within many tribal cultures, all the way through to contemporary culture. With that, Maria Tash found a way to take the concept to a luxury level. Establishing her very own business in the 90s in New York, Maria Tash’s eponymous, and now international, stores are now the most covetable places to be having your ears curated.

Having seen Tash’s unique piercings and jewelry on the likes of Uma Thurman, Yasmin Le Bon, FKA Twigs, Gwyneth Paltrow, and some of the world’s most well-known fashion influencers, it seemed the Middle East wanted in on the action. So, Maria opened the doors to her Dubai boutique earlier this year. managed to catch up with the celebrity piercer and jewelry designer to find out where it all began.

Your eponymous brand is looked to for inspiration when it comes to beautiful jewelry and curating the perfect ear. Where did the Maria Tash story begin for you?
I appreciated jewelry as a child. I have wonderful memories playing in my mother’s jewelry box and stringing her multiple necklaces around my small torso. My mother smiled as she watched me strutting about with all of her wares. I sketched some jewelry ideas in late childhood, and I hammered shapes into bangle bracelets.  Eventually I started making finger rings and crocheted a purse out of thin metal wire. In my later teenage years, I became involved with goth and punk culture, and piercing played a role in the aesthetic and music scene. Multiple earlobe, cartilage, and nostril piercings were a sign of stature and beauty. Eventually I took a leap and opened a store in Manhattan and have been in business, evolving in taste and design, since the 1990s.

You have most recently opened a new store in Dubai Mall. What has expansion into the Middle East been like for you and how has it impacted your brand?
It has been amazing. I am thrilled to be in the Dubai Mall and I personally love the city. It was a pivotal expansion point for the brand; to be able to directly reach, work with, and be inspired by Middle East clients and their requests. And to have a store in such an important and international location as Dubai mall’s Fashion Avenue alongside other luxury houses is very important for brand positioning. I am also very proud that I figured out the medical licensing piece of the business in the region. I love the design of the store, and it is one of the most beautiful stores I have. I am approached regularly from other mall owners around the world, who have seen my Dubai mall location, complemented its beauty, and offered me prime locations citing its inspiration.

How would you say the Middle Eastern market differs from your clientele in the west?
I feel like our Middle Eastern clients appreciate the same pieces I wear myself. I feel like I can design what I would want to wear, put it out in the Dubai store, and someone will appreciate it. I can design boldly, and have an audience that is more receptive than in the west. There are certain designs that I release first or design exclusively for the region. 

What would you say have been the most popular piercing trends so far with your Middle Eastern clients?
Large clusters of pear and marquise diamonds in the Tash rook. My demi diamond ring designs in the helix, and high stacked earlobe piercings with larger diamonds.

What do you love about the Middle East and do you have plans to expand the Maria Tash brand into other parts of the region? 
I love the architecture, the pride that one can build higher and taller than anywhere else in the world.  It is inspiring. I also love the convergence of luxury fashion and world-class taste in the Middle East, along with it being an international hub linking East and West.

What’s your favorite piercing trend?
I dislike the word “trend” as it implies a temporary condition. That being said, I really like a high conch piercing and am designing pieces for this special and under-adorned nook in the inner ear.  Curated with a complementary Tash rook piercing, this combination is fresh and beautiful.

From the vast Maria Tash collection, what would you say are your favorite must have pieces?
Ooh! I love the new large Lotus hoop earrings I currently only have in the Dubai store, my diamond floating tassel eternity rings, the side diamond detailing on the side of my rectangular one caret diamonds, and my floating large pear diamond charms.

It’s often mentioned that jewelry is a “personal thing”, do you have any pieces of jewelry that hold a special place in your heart?
I love motion in jewelry and most of the pieces I wear personally have movement in them: combinations of chains, dangles, and charms that wrap around and move elegantly with the body. I have long hair too, and feel like my personal jewelry compliments that movement and texture. I do have some heirloom pieces from my mother and grandmother that I cherish but do not wear daily. My pieces I wear every day.

What would you say sets aside the Maria Tash piercing and jewelry from other brands with a similar concept?
It is my designs, and my piercing angle aesthetic and philosophy. The attention to detail found in the delicate, small, and sturdy designs is differentiating. There is a vastness and uniqueness to the types and sheer range of sizes of rings and studs that create the widest palate of styling and curation options available for true custom fitting and unique combination styling. I invented a thin internal threading to apply to the body, invisible diamond setting in studs and rings, and applied the latest in laser technology applied to diamonds to create elaborate and floating diamond effects applied to the body in ways you have not seen before.

As an inspirational business woman, who have been the women that have inspired you throughout your life?
My mother was an inspiration to me: her strength, intelligence, and independence deeply supported me and my dreams, and propelled me forward my whole life. Daily, I admire women who are self-made. I have on my desk Forbes’ 2017 magazine of the richest self-made women. When I heard a magazine existed on that topic I promptly ordered the back issue to read, and keep it on my desk at home for inspiration. I also admire women who didn’t need a husband or partner to have massive business success, and especially those who managed to have a family along with that success.

Running a successful international business is no easy feat, what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
In retail Manhattan, where I started, the work was seven days a week while I was building it up and personally piercing daily. There was a time when I mortgaged my condo to rebuild my NY retail store. I just did what I loved and I lived my work. I never even thought of work as “work”, I was just spending time developing an expression of who I am and having a great time meeting and working on interesting clients.

Currently, one of the more stressful parts of the business is signing long leases. When I signed the fifteen year Manhattan retail store lease, I felt the pressure of being able to design and produce for long periods of time. I now know I can flex and alter my products along the way if customer demands change.  Since signing that first long lease, I now only enter new geographic markets and commit to contracts after I test them with temporary popup locations for a sense of security. In certain international locations, one of the main challenges is staffing. Now I have a strong human resource team to recruit and support the ever growing global staff. I don’t think I ever understood the importance of a strong human resource department, it’s essential.

What do you do to stay focused, motivated and empowered?
I listen to a lot of motivational video channels, especially when I relax in bed. I also listen to positive “I am” affirmation meditations when I walk miles to stay in shape. Motivation and inspiration for jewelry design is everywhere, but come out mostly on the weekends for me when I can lay down, relax, and sketch. I love looking (and personally shopping) top designer apparel in person, at NYC iconic department stores. I love and appreciate the deliberate choices of detailing, and gorgeous materials.  I also love perusing great design apparel online in bed. There are elements of attention to detail in the apparel, architectural, and interior design fields that spark my inspiration, and that I can modify and apply to fine jewelry.

What’s next for Maria Tash? 
I aspire to have more stores in the Middle East, and am planning to do so in a paced tempo. The brand’s global expansion also includes locations in the US and Europe simultaneously, and it requires a strong team effort. We are improving internal systems, as well as expanding factory capacity. Store expansion cannot outpace factory capacity and make current store stock low. These challenges as well as constant improvement keep life very exciting.

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