The last time I saw J.Colby Smith was about two years ago in the East Village branch of New York Adorned, where he was loading my lobes with microscopic jewels somewhere in the value vicinity of my flights from Sydney. Last week, making his first trip to Australia with THE FILE and collaborating exclusively with Sarah & Sebastian, we met again at his pop-up studio in Bondi's Koda Cutters; This time, to add to my still-enduring collection with a ninth piercing, a tiny white diamond for my left tragus that Smith chose to balance out a black diamond in my right lobe, "sort of like a yin and yang thing," he tells me.
For Smith, this process is more like an almost spiritual experience, a semi-permanent decoration akin to a tattoo rather than a quick jab-and-go. It is the kind of gentle and considered approach that he takes with his clientele that invariable keep them coming back; From Emma Stone, Scarlett Johannsen, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Erin Wasson, Zoe Kravitz, Candice Swanepoel and Abbey Lee Kershaw to any fashion editor that has ever set foot in New York, (Smith is famously booked out in the weeks just before, during and after NYFW) it's little wonder the Utah native has become the style set's go-to for all things glittery.
Here, he discusses his craft, his famous followers and how much he'd like to have you over for tea.
Who gave you your first piercing?
It was at a tattoo shop called ASI in Utah, Artistic Skin Illustration,- I cannot remember who it was. I got my tongue pierced when I was 13 because I thought I could get away with hiding it from my parents. It was brutal, super biker. I was obviously scared and had a lot of questions but he was just like, "Sit down, shut the fuck up. Do you want this or not?" That was my first introduction to piercing like, 'Fuck, this is badass! Just sit down and take it!'
Is that why you have such a gentle approach?
I don't know. To be honest, [my] job is to be helpful. I've found that it's a lot easier to be gentle with people because what happens is when you're hard with people, they feel your energy and they give it right back. But if you go in there and you're a little softer and you coddle them a little bit, it makes them feel better but it's so much easier too.
Do you do that in life too?
Yes. Every once in a while you figure out something that there's a hard way and an easy way to do something!
What do you get asked most?
"What is the next trend?" It sends shivers up my spine when people say that because it's not about a trend, and just because you're picking up on it today doesn't mean people haven't been tuning into it for the last ten years! I think it is almost insulting to everybody who has been doing it. For example, if someone has a septum piercing and you say "Oh, septum piercings are so last year".
But you still manage to have such a strong fashion following!
It's probably a mix of two things - a mix of people who actually like what I do and half of the people who just do it because everybody else is doing it. And right now my focus is on that first half of people who like what I'm doing.
Is there anything you wish people would ask you more?
My clients can ask me any 'dumb' question they want and that's what I'm here for. I think of myself as a tool to help guide them in the right direction and I think if people have an open mind and an open heart, that's when the cool stuff happens.
What makes a good sitter?
I think being open and just not being afraid to experience it. So many people get in that role of being a little uncomfortable and a little bit vulnerable and they don't like it because it's such a weird place. But it's this weird thing that really forces you to be completely present.
What's been the most surreal moment for you?
When [my piercing] crossed over from being this aggressive thing to being featured in, like, beauty sections. I had a slight vision of where it could go and I could see where there was a fashion connection but I didn't see the beauty thing coming. I spent half of my career making people as ugly as I possibly could - stretching their ears, splitting their tongues, doing all kinds of terrible things!
What's coming up for 2017?
Next year I'm really focussing on my NY studio and my LA studio. It's kind of like inviting people to your home and having tea - that's what I want the experience to be like.