We’re back from APP 2017! Two weeks ago Infinite piercers John, Andru, Robert and Zach, along with Jes and I, left for Las Vegas to attend the 22nd annual Association of Professional Piercers Conference and Exposition. It’s five days of classes, hands-on workshops, and lectures specifically for piercers and piercing studio employees. It’s also home to the APP jewelry exposition, the biggest gathering of body jewelry vendors anywhere. It’s taken us a week to catch up on our sleep and check in, photograph, and get all of the new jewelry into our in-store point-of-sale system and up for sale in our online store. Here’s our report on this year’s incredible event.
What is the APP Conference and Exposition?
The Association of Professional Piercers is an international non-profit organization dedicated to the dissemination of vital health and safety information about body piercing to piercers, health care professionals, legislators, and the general public. The organization was formed by piercers from several different studios in California in 1994 (the same year Infinite was founded) in response to proposed body art legislation in that state. The organization has grown from that small group of dedicated piercers on the west coast of the U.S. to an organization with members all over the globe.
Likewise, the annual conference has grown just as much. The first APP get-together was held at the Luxor in Las Vegas in 1995, in Florida the following year, and then again in Las Vegas every year since. It’s grown from a small social gathering to an education-driven conference that draws attendees from all over the world. This year was the largest event ever, with over 1200 registered attendees.
All of us here at Infinite are dedicated and committed to the organization. Representatives from Infinite have been heavily involved in the APP from almost the very beginning. Since the late ‘90s, all Infinite piercers have been APP members, and there have been several who served on the board of directors—including me. I also served as editor (and co-editor, with Elayne Angel) of The Point: The Journal of the APP for seven years, from 2005 to 2012.In addition, representatives from Infinite often teach classes at APP events in Las Vegas and elsewhere, and help out as APP representatives at public health conferences and tattoo conventions. The biggest event by far is the APP’s Annual Conference and Exposition. This year, Zach and Andru were Infinite’s two hardest working piercers at the event, as they do double duty not only taking classes and helping with buying for the studio, but also as volunteers for the APP. This year Andru could be found most days minding the APP merch booth at the expo, and Zach was manning the door at classes.
The rest of us split our time between trying to fit in as many classes and lectures as possible and buying jewelry at the exposition to bring back home to the studio. It’s a crazy week, and it’s a lot of work, mixed in with socializing with the best the industry has to offer—and some of our best friends, many of whom we only get to see once a year.
Sunday Night: Arrival and Check-in
By Sunday, Andru and Zach had already been in Las Vegas for two days and were hard at work for the APP. Jes and I arrived in the early evening Sunday, a little jetlagged but not too worse for wear.
After a quick trip to Whole Foods to stock up on groceries and water for the week, we breezed through registration and then headed to bed.
The start of the week for John and Robert was a little more difficult. They were scheduled to arrive early Sunday evening, but their flight was delayed by several hours. They didn’t end up getting into Las Vegas until after 3 a.m.—followed by an 8 a.m. wake-up call for registration and classes.
Monday: APP Conference Starts, and the Opening Pool Party
Monday is the first day of classes—and the first day of catching up with all of our industry friends. Jes and I attended the informative Successful Marketing: An In-Depth look at Analytics, Efficiency, & Measuring Effectiveness, taught by Tattooed Millionaire author Sean Dowdell. After stopping by the annual roundtable discussion with other studio owners, I made way way into Modern Techniques for Female Genital Piercing. This year’s class was taught by Tiffany Diamond and Whitney Thompson. Tiffany and Whitney had reached out to me when preparing the class, and in the end incorporated quite a few images of genital piercings from Infinite piercers into their presentation.
Monday night is also the APP’s opening pool party! This year’s event was across the street from Bally’s at the Flamingo hotel. The extra space made for a huge, raucous event—or so we’ve been told. While the rest of the attendees partied late into the evening, most of us from the studio decided to call it an early night to get some sleep before the big week ahead.
Tuesday: Classes Continue, Charles Gatewood, and the APP Expo Opens
According to several of our piercers, Tuesday’s Revisiting the Basics: Tongue Piercing from Precision Body Art’s Ryan Ouellette was the standout class this year. Ryan discussed modern takes on the piercing, including technique, anatomy, and jewelry theory, and presented them in an engaging and thoroughly fresh way. Also noteworthy was the members-only class Nipple Piercings: The Ins and Outs. The APP often pairs together instructors with differing viewpoints to teach the same class and sees what happens. This year Kendra Jane Berndt and Courtney Jane Maxwell, two piercers who couldn’t be more different, perfectly complemented each other and presented a memorable class.
Tuesday also saw the opening of the Charles Gatewood exhibit, organized by Paul King and the APP Body Piercing Archive. Similar to last year’s exhibit from the Sailor Sid Collection, this year focused on the work of photo documentarian of the sexual underground Charles Gatewood. I previously wrote about Gatewood on his passing in April of 2016. Charles’ photographic career ran concurrently with the rise in the popularity of tattoo and piercing culture, and Charles was around to document much of our industry’s history.
Tuesday was also the first day of the jewelry exposition. I’ve often said the year for piercers begins and ends with the yearly APP Conference, and that’s even more true for our jewelry suppliers. Each year, manufacturers release new designs, and new items go into production in order to be ready for the show in Las Vegas. This means we get the first look at new products, in addition to being able to shop for one-of-a-kind items in person. We have the largest and most diverse selection of jewelry in the studio, more than at any other time of the year, during the weeks after APP.
Wednesday: The Expo Continues, Pierced Women in Porn, and Movie Night
Wednesday had the class I was waiting for all week, XXX History of Piercing Part 1: Pierced Women in Porn, taught by Paul King. In this year’s class, Paul talked about the history of modern body piercing as seen through pornography catering to the (mostly) heterosexual market, focusing on the female performers. From the class description:
Through rare film clips and publications, this lecture sheds light on lesser known historically important piercing personalities within the much reviled world of porn. Traditionally the history of piercing is told by gay men about gay men and clearly these contributions are not overstated; however, other colorful characters have not received the attention they deserve.
Paul King is an incredibly engaging speaker with an impressive résumé. He has been a piercer since 1991, originally apprenticing under industry legend Elayne Angel. He worked at all three of the original Gauntlet locations before opening Cold Steel America in San Francisco in 1999. He has been incredibly active in the APP since the very beginning as a lecturer, board member, and Treasurer. Paul left the day-to-day running of his studio several years ago when his love for the history of body modification led him to the anthropology program at UC Berkeley. He has lectured extensively on body modification, both historical and modern, for over two decades. Now, Paul applies his education as an anthropologist to his vast historical knowledge of modern piercing to produce the most fascinating talks—and these are often a high point of the week’s presentations. Wednesday continued the historical movie theme into the evening with Paul hosting a piercing-themed movie night. This year the screening started with historical artifacts, including the original Pierce with a Pro: Male Piercing, from Gauntlet, and ended with a screening of Dee Snider’s Strangeland. (This 1998 cult horror film with the “piercing design” for Dee Snider’s character done by New York modification artist Keith Alexander.) It’s pretty dated now, but it’s a fun look back at a piece of piercing history.
Thursday: Jim Ward, Trauma-induced Piercing, and the Banquet Dinner
Thursday morning, Jim Ward gave another of his “fireside chats,” where he talked about the Gauntlet and the early history of body piercing. Though his stories are familiar with everyone who was working in the early years of our industry, his talks are a revelation for the younger attendees. For the whole story, be sure to check out Jim Ward’s engaging memoir Running the Gauntlet.
Thursday afternoon’s Trauma-induced Piercing was a fascinating class. From the description:
Many survivors who seek out body modification do so to reclaim ownership over their bodies. Body modification professionals have the potential to help survivors of sexual violence by establishing a safe and empowering experience during a time of extreme vulnerability. Through trauma informed services, customers can have a body modification experience that is positive and healing. Participants will develop personal skills to decrease customer discomfort, increase customer satisfaction, and improve the studio's customer retention and referral.
The class was taught by Jen Brockman, the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center at the University of Kansas. While not working directly inside the piercing industry, she offered understanding into how to best communicate with trauma survivors, and help them navigate through their body modification journey.
Thursday evening is also the night of the banquet dinner. Here, APP Conference attendees dress up and celebrate another year and another successful conference. This year’s theme was the ‘90s, so it was platform shoes, baggy jeans, and Marilyn Manson t-shirts all around. With all of us from the studio running around all week trying to fit in classes and trips to the expo with socializing, the banquet dinner is the one time we all get to sit down together and catch up on the week. It’s also the one time we can get us all together for a photo.
After the banquet dinner, John and Robert caught a red-eye flight out of Las Vegas to be at work at the studio on Friday. It’s a rough schedule, but some of us had to be back to relieve Paul Espinoza, who had been holding things down with help from Infinite alum, Jay McColm.
Friday: Goodbyes, and Heading Back to Philly
Friday means packing in the morning, with a quick trip to the expo before heading to the airport. We said our last goodbyes before the long flight back to Philadelphia, carrying a huge duffle bag full of jewelry.
Below are just a few of the companies we made purchases from while at the 22nd Annual APP Conference and Exposition. Though our busiest buying day is Tuesday, we spent many hours in the expo throughout the week, stopping by each booth to see all of the new designs and companies, and to grab the best of what they had to offer. To view the full selection of items purchased this year in Las Vegas, check out our special APP link here.
In 2013, I was down in Mexico City for the first LBP Conference, and travelled down to Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos. While there at an opening at Jason Phohl’s Gorilla Gallery, I found myself talking with Corey Lolley, owner and designer of Maya Jewelry. We discussed the state of the industry, and where we thought things were headed. During that talk, I asked her if she had looked into designing and producing her own line of press-fit ends. Nostril piercings were becoming incredibly popular for us, and I mentioned to Corey that I thought her designs for Maya, with her blend of modern and Eastern-influences, would translate wonderfully to a smaller scale. Was this something that she was looking into?
Fast-forward to three weeks ago, and I was delighted to receive an email from Corey, letting me know Maya was going to be introducing a line of 14k gold clickers and press-fit ends at conference this year! Furthermore, while she ramps up to full production, Infinite will be one of only a handful of studios with her full new line available for purchase. We now have them in stock and it’s everything you would expect from Maya: beautiful designs and impeccable craftsmanship. We have the full line of Maya’s 14k gold press-fit ends and clickers available at the studio and in our online store. We have extremely limited quantities of these products, and they will go quickly—so get them while you can.
Through the years, while Jason Pfohl from Gorilla Glass has created the amazing designs in glass body jewelry, he’s also been a good friend to us at the studio. He’s been a gracious host for visits to his adopted hometown of Oaxaca, Mexico, and we collaborated on the Gorilla Lifestyle booklet Jason put out last year with some photos from the Philadelphia Project.
Over the years, Jason has moved his focus at Conference from stocking and selling a huge inventory to using the expo to showcase singular items, and returning home with only few of them left. With this strategy, we were able to pick up our new Gorilla Glass items at heavily discounted prices—and we’re passing along that discount to our clients! We have a full selection of glass weights, from small Mini Eclipse Weights to hefty Martele Ovoid Weights, all at 30% off of standard prices.
Nick Martin and his crew of jewelers from Body Vision Los Angeles create the most striking designs in gold and precious stones the industry has to offer. Demand for their jewelry is high—with good reason. While everyone at the exposition is vying for their signature pieces, we managed to snag several beautiful pieces. In addition to restocking a few older items, new designs we picked up were the striking Milo, Kalisi, and Nanda Pear seam rings, and the incredible Oval Halo and Round Halo gemmed navel curves.
Jimmy Buddha and the crew at Diablo Organics always make a good showing at the APP Conference. Diablo has some of the most compelling and singular pieces in the industry, and we spent a good bit of time at their booth looking for just the right pieces to bring back with us. Just to name a few, we restocked their always-popular megalodon teeth dangles in two styles, “cushion” dangles in rose quartz, labradorite, and fluorite, and stellar clear and rutilated quartz dangles.
Tether is a newer company started in 2014 by Paul Shinichi, who was inspired by his fifteen years of experience in the body piercing community to create his own line of jewelry. Last year’s conference was the first time we brought back these amazing new designs, and this year Paul has introduced the 2018 Noachis Terra Collection. From Tether’s site:
Noachian period: Formation of the oldest extant surfaces of Mars, 4.5 billion years ago to 3.5 billion years ago. Noachian age surfaces are scarred by many large impact craters. The Tharsis bulge, a volcanic upland, is thought to have formed during this period, with extensive flooding by liquid water late in the period. Tether's 2018 Noachis Terra Collection is inspired by the natural terrain and land of strange worlds along with that of Earth's.
The new line of clickers have names between the fact and fiction of science and space: the Pavilian, Pulse, Tharsis, Archive, Carbonado, Echo, and Lattice. Each ring is hinged for easy insertion and removal. Cast in stainless steel, these are sturdy and nonreactive when worn, and they are available in “nude” steel, with no coating; black PVD-coated stainless steel; and yellow- and rose-gold-plated over yellow-PVD-coated stainless steel. Perfect designs for stargazers and fashionistas alike.
…and more jewelry from APP 2017!
We picked up beautiful press-fit ends and rings from Sacred Symbols and Scylla, signature pieces from Quetzalli, exclusive 2018 designs from Tawapa, incredible weights from Oracle Body Jewelry and from Buddha Jewelry, titanium clickers from Industrial Strength, and a few pieces from LeRoi and Yaxche. We also added a brand-new company to our roster, with über goth crystal skulls from Phoenix Revival Jewelry.
Fresh Infinite T-shirts
Lastly, APP Conference also means a new Infinite t-shirt design! For the last several years we’ve introduced a new design for each year’s show: our infamous ”Skull” shirts in 2014, our ”Banana” shirts in 2015, (our friends at BVLA loved this one), and our “Modern Primitives” tees and tank tops from last year. This year’s banquet theme was the ’90s, and this year’s shirt pays homage to a sitcom that helped define the era: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Throwback graffiti lettering adorns the front while a special print of the original Fresh Prince himself is featured on the side. Shop information is on the back left shoulder, with “South Philadelphia, born and raised.” These are now available at the studio and directly from our online store. This is a limited print run, so get one while you can.