J. Colby Smith, Piercer, New York Adorned


“I’m one of two piercers at New York Adorned, and I’ve been there for seven years now. I came out to New York and I thought I would get off the plane, and there would be a hundred amazing tattoo shops and piercing studios, and fancy this and fancy that. I looked around and the only place that had the reputation and the caliber was New York Adorned. I had known about it for a long time before coming here; it’s been a venue to some of the biggest names in tattooing.

When I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen, I always idolized tattoo artists and piercers. So me and my friends would go and skateboard in front of a tattoo shop in my hometown, Ogden, Utah, just hoping one of these guys would see us outside and give us five or ask us for a cigarette or something. At that age, you’re so impressionable, and you make up your mind who your idols are, and I just found people who I thought were cool. Later on I was working at a crappy job—at a warehouse with forklifts—and my friend was opening his own tattoo shop in a small college town. He basically asked me to come along, and he taught me how to pierce. This was in 2000. I came to New York on a whim. I had some friends who were coming out here, and they kept saying, ‘Come to New York, come to New York!’ I really liked where I lived, I had a really great job—by then I was running a vegan café, and I had a book club, I put on video screenings, all kinds of political awareness stuff, blah blah blah. Anyway, my friends asked me to come out here, and I fought it and fought it, and then the day before they moved, I woke up in the middle of my sleep, and I sat straight up in bed, and I realized how unhappy I was, and how I needed change. I packed all my stuff up and left the next day. When I came to New York, I didn’t know what I was going to do—it was like my life crossroads. As soon as I got here, though, I met somebody who knew somebody at New York Adorned. The whole thing about coming from Salt Lake to New York is that I felt like I was being pulled toward something like a magnetic force. I am definitely superstitious, like with the number 108. It’s sort of become my lucky number.

The difference between what I do and the industry standard is—I think piercing is in a lot of ways meant to look intimidating or extreme. A lot of it is about ‘how big that ring in her ear is.’ I try to do things to look more delicate and pretty, and I feel like a lot of other people focus more on extremes. And honestly—and this is going to sound funny to say—for me, less is more, aesthetically. I’ve become quite famous for saying ‘no.’ People see something on their friend and they want the same thing, but maybe their anatomy is different; maybe it just doesn’t work. It’s not so much about saying ‘no,’ it’s more about being honest. I try to look at each person as an individual and customize something to their needs. Everyone’s different. It could be the type of material, it could be a number of things, but there are a few things I can tweak to make it customized to that person.

I really like the mix of people who I meet, ‘cause they change every 20 minutes—all the different personalities. I’d say I’m reserved, but when I’m working I have 20 minutes to unlock a person, figure out what makes them tick, what they like, what they don’t like. I change for every person; it’s part of why I’m successful. I can adopt so many different personalities. If somebody wants to be shy, I can be shy back to them. If somebody wants to be aggressive, I can be aggressive back to them. If someone wants to talk shit to me, I can talk shit back to them. Because it’s such an intimate experience, I think people are in a vulnerable space so they tend to open up. If I pass them on the street, they’re not going to say the same shit that they would in there. So it’s cool, I feel like I bond with them very quickly; it’s just a nice moment shared between two people. And at the store, a lot of us have worked together for a long time, so there’s a lot of jokes, and a lot of teasing. Like for example, if I have a really pretty girl in my room, one of the guys, without fail, will stick his head in and say, ‘Oh Colby, your girlfriend called. She wants you to pick up some milk on the way home.’ [Laughs] It’s cool though, there’s a lot of talent there. Just being surrounded by artists, in general...the energy; there’s so much creativity.

I like to pick up fashion magazines, like Love or V, and I’ll go through them and draw piercings on the models. That way I can experiment with the way things fall or lay on paper before it’s a $500 piece of jewelry. It keeps me inspired, and it keeps me fresh. The first revelation I had about making my own jewelry—and I think a lot of it also just comes from understanding how piercings work and how things will lay and how things should fall—was when I was troubleshooting a problem in my head where I had a good friend of mine who was an actress, and she wanted the look of a thin, fitted ring in her septum. But the problem with the septum ring she had was that they’re not easy to remove, and she would go to work and need to shoot, and she'd try to take it out herself, and then end up mangling it, and come back and buy a new one. And that was the cycle that just kept repeating and repeating. So literally after a couple months—I swear to God I was asleep and I woke up—I just realized that I could achieve what I wanted with a chain. I could make it user-friendly, where it just loops onto a retainer so it could easily be taken on and off. Plus, with a chain, it still gives the look of being delicate, and it’s got a little bit of movement to it. It’s so simple—a chain was everything I needed right there. I basically wanted to understand how jewelry worked, so I started taking some jewelry classes—basic goldsmithing and silversmithing. I wanted to know what was and wasn't possible, so if I was dreaming up something it wouldn’t just be this weird impossible idea. Then, with the septum stuff, I ended up having a lot of excess chain on hand, and I just started dressing things up for people here and there. I have a little tiny studio at my house, with a little jewelry bench. Everything I do I don’t need that much equipment for.

I’m mostly excited to see really pretty things going on with piercings. It’s kind of moved away from the nineties-tacky thing, although there is a little bit of the nineties coming back. But I’m happy to see piercing on the runways; it’s exciting, opening it up to a whole new crowd. Piercings have been pretty dominant in our culture for a while now, but I feel like they’ve always been kept out of the magazines and off the runways for whatever reason, like they’re a little too edgy. But for me, fashion is edgy; to me, it makes sense, that that’s where they would go, right? Fashion is always really pushing the envelope. There’s some pretty crazy stuff on the runway, and it’s weird that it’s always been toned down when it comes to piercings. I really like the recent stuff, where it’s not even subtle: I notice huge conch piercings on billboards or in magazine ads. People are coming in and trying to imitate those things. I’m into everything, but the Givenchy conch is not my personal aesthetic.”

—as told to ITG

J. Colby Smith photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on July 17th, 2012

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  • http://thezerowinter.blogspot.com/ zoobia

    He seems really cool. I love reading interviews featuring people who are passionate about what they do; seeing how they delve into the intricacies of their work. It's a beautiful thing, and so inspiring.


  • D.

    I think I've said it like 3 times in the comments on ITG, but: COLBY IS A GOD!

    That just needs to be repeated because its a universal truth, and while things change with time that fact will never.
    The work he does is wonderful and the way he talks about his craft is filled with passion which, unfortunately, many people seem like lack nowadays.

  • Jo

    He's hit the nail on the head about piercing studios vein super intimidating! I got my first piercing at the grottiest little place but luckily my piercer was super nice. One day I'm gonna get a pretty j. Colby smith piercing !

  • http://procrastinatingpretty.blogspot.com/ The Procrastinator

    It's so wonderful to see someone love what they do this much. I believe everyone you interview adores their work, but J. Colby's really gone out of his way to explore every facet of piercing. Great interview!

  • Jessica

    He's so passionate. Really interesting read. Thanks :)


  • http://promtheme.tumblr.com/ Sally Axford

    I've been following Colby on instagram for a while now and didn't realise he was such a known guy! This post makes me happy. I am forever liking photos of his clients ears- there is NOTHING like it here in Australia.

  • http://twitter.com/Chewing_The_Fad Deb Johnson

    God, I love people who take on this approach with what they do. Great, great read.

  • VotreAmie

    Incredible personality, and his passion is exciting and inspiring.

  • C_l_a_r_a_

    I've wanted to get a piercing for so long and I wish he could be the one piercing me. If I lived in NYC or not too far, I would already have piercings. Too bad I live in Paris where I can't seem to find a good piercer...


    This was enjoyable to read since it wasn't a typical ITG person. Hope to see if you include top beauty chemist or dermatologist beauty/skincare preferences, who are responsible for either creating products or treating the fashion crowd. Also, I liked the old format. It was cleaner. The new site looks kind of busy - my eyes have to dart allover the page in a way that is a little eye straining...just a thought. Not a hater. I enjoy your blog/site. But not a fangirl lemming either.

    • D.

      I agree. the new format makes me want to stay away from browsing the site because its really busy. I like how the site has grown but I preferred the cleaner look from before.

      Oh and Emily I hope you get to interview beauty chemists and perfume chemists specifically, that would be great!

  • Christina

    I truly wish a person and studio like this existed here in London. Just for the jewelry alone.

  • mariana

    This is a great blog. It might be my favorite one.

  • Brittany

    Emily - I LOVE that you include piercing and more "non-conventional" beauty wisdom on your blog. really a great interview, it's not just a repeat of what I see in my monthly Vogue. i took out all my piercings because they were too college-y and not pretty and delicate, just as j. colby said, but i could never find a piercer who could give me anything more my style. but you just solved my dilemma! i will definitely, definitely be heading down to NY Adorned this week.


    Homie's lips are very Marc Jacobs circa 1991: the Perry Ellis years.


  • Em

    Love the idea of drawing on the model's in magazines before creating a piece. As a fellow artisan I will definitely be keeping this in mind for my 'process' !

  • courtney

    J. Cole (as I call him) did a piercing for me when I was last in NYC. Amazing guy, amazing work, and I could not recommend him highly enough. I won't get into where I was pierced exactly (it probably sounds worse than it is!) but I will say that it was almost painless and that it's beautiful. Kind of weird for a body piercing, but that's exactly what it is: beautiful!

    FANTASTIC JOB EM! Thanks for turning me on to him and I hope to read more articles like this one.

  • Amber Nefertari

    I enjoyed this very much. It is nice to see unconventional faces and highlights on this blog, kudos! That is interesting, ya know--the whole scribbling on magazine pictures. How clever!

  • http://mybeautysample.com/ Becca @ The Beauty Sample

    What a free spirit! I like that he obviously is passionate about what he does and strives to create something beautiful. I so wish i lived in NY so he could pierce me!

  • Elizabetht Johnson

    I've had him pierce me and he truly is all of those things! He's amazing and kind and I had no idea who he was until ITG! I feel lucky now...

  • Brit

    This article is great! Smith's blog photos have inspired me to put earrings back into all of my ear piercings, so thanks for that! Also, is it weird how hot I think he is?? Total crush status, haha.

  • http://minacoleta.blogspot.com minacoleta

    I went to NY Adorned for my nostril piercing, and though my mom suggested waiting to get a reservation with Colby, I didn't wait and got it done with another piercer. Oh, how I wish I had waited!!

    • michelles2cents

      What happened? Did the other piercer mess up your nose?

      • http://minacoleta.blogspot.com minacoleta

        No, my nose piercing is lovely and has given me no problems for the two and a half years I've had it! I just wish I was able to say that Colby had pierced me!