I can't remember the first time I got my ears pierced, but I know it happened before I turned 5. It was a cute and exciting thing, to have pierced ears as a small child, and surprisingly common, as I remember talking about earrings with all my kindergarten classmates who had their ears pierced, too. But as cute as it was on the surface, I went through many years of my young life trying to ignore the hot pain that flashed through my body whenever my mother would poke and prod my lobes with studs or hoops for special occasions. And when I reached adolescence, it became clear that my ears had outgrown my pierced lobes, leaving behind two crooked, sad holes that I couldn't even get an earring through anymore.
I got my ears pierced for a second time when I turned 13. My mother took me to a piercing kiosk at our local mall and explained my ear situation to a girl who looked no older than 20. She dotted my damaged lobes with a pen and proceeded to use a piercing gun to punch two new holes in my ears. I didn't know better then, but because I was pierced unprofessionally with a piercing gun, (aka the number one thing you should never use while administering a piercing) eventually, my second holes became just as crooked and problematic as my first pair.
I learned to live without wearing earrings to avoid dealing with the pain and unflattering placement. It became easier to ignore the holes over time, and, for the most part, I forgot they existed. I would feel fine until I saw a friend's cute new piercing, or an Instagram photo of a beautiful pair of earrings. But at my college graduation this year, I threw my insecurities to the wind and wore the biggest hoop earrings I had in my abandoned collection and walked across the stage with confidence. I decided I wanted to turn my insecurities around, and so I looked into what I could do to transform my crooked holes into ones I could love.
I decided to check out Instagram to see what was out there in the world of piercing. The first thing I noticed was the surge in creativity. Piercings in clusters featuring jewelry in cute shapes, like triangles and circles, and unorthodox placements, in the form of daith and anti-tragus piercings, have taken over Instagram, leaving traditional piercings in the backseat. I wondered if there was any way to fix my traditional piercings, maybe even by incorporating some of these new techniques?
Cassi Lopez is one of those artists creating a revolution in the piercing industry with her larger-than-life designs. As a "super-rebellious teen," Lopez expressed herself through body modification and tons of piercings. Her love for doing and getting piercings grew, and eventually prompted her to spend her senior year of high school working in a tattoo shop as a piercer. Fourteen years and thousands of Instagram followers later, Lopez is now the head piercer and jewelry buyer at New York Adorned, where she's gained a cult-like following for her minimalist and unique ear designs.
Read our interview with Lopez to see what piercing she loves doing the most, who she looks up to, and how she can turn a crooked piercing into a full-blown ear masterpiece.
What piercing do you do the most often?
I do more ear piercings than anything, and, honestly, I love it. Everyone's ears are so different, so it really gives you the opportunity to play with the anatomy and have fun with it. I particularly like doing daith piercings—they keep me on my toes.
Have you pierced your own ears? Is there a memorable piercing you remember doing?
I have definitely pierced myself in the past. My ears and more. It's a control thing. I pierced my own vertical labret back in 2008. Took me about 20 minutes to get the courage to push the needle through, but it came out perfect!
What piercing issues do you most often address?
Primarily hypertrophic scarring; I think I speak for every piercer when I say it's the number one issue. It's that bubble that people sometimes get around their piercings. It's primarily from irritation from sleeping on the piercing, but can also be from piercing angles and jewelry type. We usually assess it on a case-by-case basis.
In what ways have you seen the piercing industry shifting?
I think the biggest change in the industry has been with jewelry. There are SO many amazing jewelers and companies coming out with pieces that would blow your mind. It's incredible to see how well-received it is from the general public. More people want piercings, just so they can put beautiful jewelry in them. It's really cool to see such progress within the industry.
What artists are you inspired by?
I'm inspired by a lot of piercers. I really do believe there is a sort of artistic element that goes into it. Between placement, jewelry style, and anatomy, you're working with a legitimate canvas. It's so much more than just poking someone with a needle. I really love the work of Marilyn Mena-Scott, Ben Tauber, and Perry M Doig. Great piercers and great people.
What issues do you commonly see in customers who have had a bad piercing before? Does New York Adorned particularly cater to these issues or are these things based on a case-by-case basis?
We see a lot of misplaced piercings. Primarily lobe piercings that are either too high or too low. They're case by case for sure, because some things just can't be fixed. Sometimes people have had these piercings for 20 years, and the holes just won't close. In which case you can't do much but work with what you have. In those situations, the best we can do is "redecorate," and kind of take the eye away from it.
This is one of my favorite setups and the perfect example of a piercing I fixed. The yellow gold disc was her original first hole piercing, which was really far off from her other ear. The white gold disc is where her new first hole is, matching the other ear, and the rose gold was added to make the trio more cohesive.
How do you treat extreme cases, like with ears that have been infected?
It's a rare occasion that a piercing is actually infected. I'd say 90 percent of the time, they're incredibly irritated. If someone really does have an infection, I'd send them straight to a doctor.
Have you pierced any celebs? What is the work you're most proud of?
I've pierced a bunch of celebs. I'd say I'm most proud of the piercings done on Ashley Graham. I did a stack of gold rings going up her right ear, and when other jewelry designers stack beautiful pieces into those healed holes, it's a great feeling. Plus, she's an amazing human!
What should customers know before getting a piercing fixed or a piercing in general?
Be open to suggestions. If you come in with your mind set on something, there's a good chance it may be shut down. There are a lot of factors that go into working with previous holes, primarily anatomy. if your ear is too small for certain pieces or placements, I can't change that; I can only work with what I'm given. But if you let me work my magic, I can assure you, you'll love it!