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Pierced like Beckham: how Claire’s Accessories went A-list, one ear at a time

It’s not often that I look to Harrison Ford for inspiration but that’s precisely how I found myself in Claire’s Accessories getting a second piercing in my right earlobe. The story goes like this: after a lunch with country music crooner Jimmy Buffett Ford, then 55, decided he liked Buffett’s stud so much he would visit an Los Angeles branch of Claire’s Accessories to get his ear pierced. The lucky piercer was a woman called Tavora Escossery who, it’s thought, made the experience so pleasant that before leaving, Ford wrote her a note reading: “To Tavora. You made a hole in me. Harrison Ford.”

So yesterday, I found myself in a west London branch of Claire’s Accessories hoping to get a “Harrison Ford”. Or, more specifically a “Brooklyn Beckham” since this is the place where, late last year, young Beckham arrived with his mother and father in relatively low-key fashion (no store closing, no fuss) and got diamantes like Daddy in both ears while Victoria patiently leafed through hair extensions at the back. I even chose what I believe to be the same dainty diamante stud.

Harrison Ford, with stud, in 2013. Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

More than 91 million people, including Ford and Beckham, have been pierced in Claire’s Accessories since it started the service in 1978. It was where I got my ears pierced when I was 15. I remember the day well – sometime in June, a hot day, post-exam fervour. I sat sweltering and trying not to faint in the shop window of a West Country branch and emerged with two oversized gold studs. Back then there was nowhere else to go. Fifteen years later the almost 3,500 worldwide stores have played host to an ever-swelling celebrity roster: Rihanna, Rihanna’s niece, MC Hammer, Brandy, Katherine Heigl, Anthony Kiedis, Brooke Shields and Carl Lewis. Even Stephen King was a customer. Inexplicable, really, if you have ever sat at the back of store, surrounded by welcoming pink furry accoutrements and flowered festival-wear, in the queue to get pierced.

Rihanna with one of her many piercings. Photograph: Startraks Photo / Rex Features/Startraks Photo / Rex Features

Claire’s, that familiar mall-happy chain of accessory shops, started in the 1960s in Chicago and has since expanded all over the world, buying up rivals such as Topkapi (Hong Kong) and British-chain Bow Bojangles. Piercings aside, it has the monopoly on the tween market and beyond. It’s thanks to Claire’s that summer festivals have been routinely ruined by flower garlands and young girls find it appropriate to don Chola-style bandanas. The speed at which it designs and stocks its merchandise is incredible. The store changes everyday. On the day of my visit, I wait in line next to a sale stand featuring the remnants of original-line-up One Direction merchandise.

A model backstage at Rodarte SS15 show. Photograph: Fairchild Photo Service/Cond Nast/Corbis

Piercing has rolled with the times, ebbing and flowing with the tides of celebrity and catwalk trends. Crosses were a thing thanks to Lady Gaga. Septum piercings are two-a-penny thanks to Rihanna and FKA Twigs. Emma Watson and Erin Wasson prefer a cluster of dainty silver piercings on red carpets. Last season Louis Vuitton suggested we wear a single collarbone-tickling earring; this season, Rodarte’s look – a series of dainty silver rings pulled through models’ eyebrows like stitches through a chicken cavity – has sparked a trend in clip-on piercings. Claire’s, incidentally, does a cracking line in falsies: septums are a big seller. They regularly send fake eyebrow rings for editorial shoots in Vogue.

What is the appeal of Claire’s? The spokeswoman, Lizzie, is stumped: “I mean it’s a low-key experience, you’re in and out, you don’t have to book and no one really notices you.” It’s also relatively cheap – prices start at £20, which is about £10 less than your average tattoo and piercing parlour.

The experience itself is wonderfully painless. Bar the group of Spanish tourists who watch the process with the sort of voyeurism you’d expect at a hanging. Sam, a stickler for hygiene, cleans, loads and shoots the gun into my ear with no drama. Claire’s has developed a new system that means it heals twice as quick – in three weeks no less – meaning teanagers will no longer have to wear the shame of a piercing stud if they time it with the start of the school holidays. It feels like a pinch, goes sore for a minute, and then feels completely normal. I decide to get one in case I have trouble sleeping on one side but wish I’d got two. I leave the shop minutes later and forget, minutes later, that I have a new piercing. It’s only later, when I’m in the lift to my flat, that I clock myself in the mirror and realise (not for the first time) that I look like Brooklyn Beckham. Or hell, Harrison Ford. What more could you want?

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