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Pick A Part, Pierce a Part _ High Fashion in the ’90s

January 21, 1995

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) _ The ear (ouch). The nose (Ouch). The cheek (Ouch!). The nipple (OUCH!!). The genitals (OOOOOOOUCH!!!!)

Body-piercing, once the domain of the spiked dog collar set, has relocated from the subculture to the suburbs. Manhattan and San Francisco aren’t the only places to pierce anymore; from Wildwood, N.J., to Santa Monica, Calif., piercing shops are now staples.

There’s even one here in downtown Montclair, town of choice for yuppies fleeing Manhattan’s crowds and crime. On a tree-lined street lined with wood-frame homes, a hardware store and a beauty parlor, an average of 50 folks per week take a sharp needle through a body part at Ink-Credible Tattoo.

``Some people go every week for a manicure, a massage or a sauna,″ explains Christine Brief, co-owner of the husband-and-wife piercing place. ``Other people come here. It’s part of their lifestyle.″

Prominent celebrity lifestyle converts include navel-pierced supermodels Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. ``The Crying Game″ star Jaye Davidson prefers nipple jewelry. NBA star Dennis Rodman rebounds (when he’s not suspended or AWOL) with pierced ears, a pierced nose and a pierced navel. Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash has a nose ring.

But the rich, famous and punctured are not alone. Ever imagine bank tellers with nose rings? Lawyers with nipple bars?

Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, reflecting on his pierced ears, nose and nipple, now sees himself as somewhat wimpy.

``Those piercings are considered worthless and weak in the ’90s,″ says Lee, whose holes date back to the early 1980s. ``Unless you have a bolt through your (OOOOOOOUCH!!!!), you’re not making it in the ’90s.″


Piercing tip No. 1, from Maria Tashjian of Venus Modern Body Art: When piercing the tongue, use extreme caution. ``You can’t just pierce randomly, because there are two major veins that go up its underside.″

At Tashjian’s East Village piercing boutique, tongue piercing ($35) is No. 2 on the most requested list, behind navels ($50) and ahead of nipples ($55). The friendly staff appears somewhat threatening, mostly because they sport enough facial jewelry to set off metal detectors.

``I never saw piercing as a fad,″ says Tashjian, who displays an assortment of ear piercings, two nose rings, a septum (the cartilage that separates the nostrils) piercing and a stud protruding from her lower lip.

That look _ including a one-inch hole in her right ear, the result of a process called stretching _ is relatively tame. Employee John Dolce is fast closing in on two dozen piercings.

Body piercing has escaped the ``drunken-sailor-on-shore-leave″ stigma that goes ink-in-arm with tattooing. For one thing, piercings aren’t permanent (Roseanne, Johnny Depp and Mark Gastineau are just three people embroidered with the name of an ex-loved one.)

Tattoos are done in parlors; piercings are performed in boutiques. The level of hygiene is quite high _ instruments cleaned in autoclaves, needles used just once, rubber gloves discarded after each customer.

The lobby at Venus Modern Body Art is done in purple and black. The display case is filled with jewelry ready-made for your eyebrow (rings, generally) or your cheeks (barbells _ just what you think, only smaller).

Tashjian taught computer skills to Russian refugees before she opted to turn her passion into her profession. She studied at the Fakir Musafar School of Body Piercing in San Francisco before opening her own shop nearly two years ago.

Dressed head to toe in black, with tattoos peeking out on her wrists and neck, Tashjian looks like someone who’s into body piercing. But don’t be fooled, she says; lots of unlikely people are sporting body jewelry.

``A lot of people can’t do facial piercings because of their jobs,″ she says. ``But there’s a lot of piercings cloaked under business suits.″


Piercing tip No. 2: Picking your jewelry is painless. Making a hole for it is not.

Tony Paternoster, of Totowa, N.J., rates nipple piercing as No. 1 on the ouch-ometer, although he says getting the back of his neck lanced was no picnic, either.

The back of his neck?

``You clamp the neck, as tight as you can with as much skin as you can pull, and then pierce right through it,″ he explains. A bent barbell is slipped through the hole, creating a look that recently cost him jobs as a lifeguard and flower delivery boy.

At 22, Paternoster is in the same age group as many piercers: 18- to 30-years old. But his interest predates the outbreak of body-piercing that began in 1993, starting on the fashion runways of Paris.

Montclair piercer Cary Brief, who handled all of Paternoster’s perforations, says the rush of business since has remained constant.

``This is not a fad like a hula hoop or a mood ring, where you can put it on, take it off, and forget about it,″ he says. ``You’ve got to get your nerve up, sit in the chair, and get it done.″


Piercing tip No. 3, from Paternoster: Attempt to keep track of exactly how many holes you have in your body.

``Right now, probably 15 to 20,″ he says, running down a mental checklist. ``Nipples, navel, tongue, four in the lips, septum, nostril, eyebrow, back of neck, genitals. That covers it.″

London body piercer Teena Maree, who did the navel-piercing job on Campbell and Turlington, has 23 piercings of her own. It’s not unusual to see people with a dozen or more visible piercings at one of the local shops.

``It’s kind of addicting,″ says Tashjian. ``Once you get a piercing done, you start thinking of the next one. At least for me, it was like, `That’s beautiful. What am I gonna get next?‴

But don’t get the impression that four out of every five Americans is walking around with a half-dozen holes in their body.

A study done this year by the Inverness Corp., a major manufacturer of piercing equipment, found that 89 percent of the people quizzed would only needle their ear lobes.

Those who feel differently say they’ve been pierced for different reasons: Rite of passage. Sexual pleasure. Celebration.

And that old standby, rebellion.

``My parents _ every time I come home with something new, they’re freaked out,″ Paternoster says. ``That shock factor probably has a lot to do with it. I love watching the reaction.″

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