When the much-hyped film “Saltburn” premiered in cinemas in late 2023, there were reports of viewers audibly screaming in the cinema during its 131-minute run-time. Emerald Fennell’s satirical sophomore directorial feature isn’t billed as a horror – according to Prime it’s a “beautifully wicked tale of privilege and desire” – but it’s sweaty, seductive and surreal, laced with plenty of “Did that just happen?” moments that made my own jaw hang agape. There’s the scene with a bath, the scene with grave, the scene that makes me think I’ll never hear Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor” in quite the same way again.
Perhaps the most confronting element of the film is its time period. To portray the cuckoo-in-the-nest tale of Oliver Quick (portrayed by Barry Keoghan) and the charming and aristocratic object of his obsession Felix Catton (former T Australia cover star Jacob Elordi), Fennell set the action in the hot mess of 2006.
The turn of the millennium was sartorially unkind to many of us, and “Saltburn” holds no punches, with rugby jerseys, Juicy Couture tracksuits, Nast Gal fringed jackets and Livestrong bracelets galore. The cast are decked out in skinny jeans and wide-set belts that conjure visions of an early aughts Kate Moss – and now elicit spine shivers. But it’s a specific piece of jewellery worn in the film that captured the internet’s heart, or its revulsion.
For the first third of the movie, Elordi’s Felix sports a vertical barbell eyebrow piercing threaded through his left arch – a signature of the indie sleaze movement, though one not everyone was on board with. As Fennell explained in a recent interview with “Vogue”, she had to fight her producers for the accessory’s inclusion.
“They said, ‘We don’t understand why you would mar the most beautiful man in the world’s face with an eyebrow piercing’.” To which Fennell replied, “If you have never been round the back of a nightclub with a boy with an eyebrow piercing and then cried into your kebab later, you have no skin in this game.”
Fennell’s decision was an attempt to ground Felix in the glamourless of the era; a dash of punk rebellion amidst the otherwise old money prep aesthetic he gravitates towards. By the second act of the film, after Oliver has successfully scored an invite to Felix’s fictional and fabulous family manor Saltburn, the piercing is gone. Felix explains that his mother Elspeth (Rosamund Pike) won’t let him wear the eyebrow jewellery at home because she finds it vulgar.
Many of the movie viewing general public appeared to disagree, with countless tweets, Instagram homages, think pieces and watercolour paintings whipped up in honour of the small accessory. And while it does shout loudly of the film’s period, the eyebrow piercing has been wreaking havoc for decades.
Tamila Purvis is a professional piercer, stylist and the head of ear alchemy at Australian fine jewellery label Sarah & Sebastian, and has had a front row seat to the evolving piercing trends of the last 30 years. Launching her career in fashion as a magazine editor in 2004, Purvis co-founded avant-garde jewellery brand ManiaMania in 2009.“The real turning point came when I began working under the wing of piercing industry legend Andre Meyer for two years,” says Purvis. “That experience paved the way for the launch of my own jewellery line, and becoming a professional piercer. Fast forward to August of last year, and here I am with Sarah & Sebastian, as the head of ear alchemy.”
Of Elordi’s statement piercing, Purvis has mixed feelings. “Eyebrow piercings, for me, have been a journey shaped by evolving trends. I saw it through the 90s, and while it wasn’t my favourite style, seeing how Jacob Elordi has redefined the trend brings a fresh perspective,” she says.
“Eyebrow piercings, like any piercings, allow individuals to embrace a sense of body autonomy, providing a canvas for personal expression and often signifying a desire for a style update or change.”
And Purvis says that Elordi isn’t the first star to influence piercing trends. “The surge in popularity of the styled ear has been driven by influential celebrities and musicians like Zoe Kravitz, Scarlett Johanssen, Rihanna and Beyonce – showcasing the transformative edge that piercings can bring to their own personal style and inspiring individuals to experiment with multiple piercings,” she says.
“We have many clients who book appointments seeking a ‘Zoe Kravitz effect’, with multiple planned-out piercings. During these appointments, we provide expert advice on curating their ears, taking into consideration their unique anatomy to ensure a personalised and styled outcome.”
Purvis has observed a recent noticeable shift in overall piercing interest, “particularly among men who are exploring jewellery choices beyond traditional norms”.
“Edgier piercings and jewellery styles are becoming more mainstream, emphasising personal expression over fleeting trends,” she says.
As for the rest of 2024, Purvis says that forward Helix piercings (found on the ear’s upper outer cartilage) are on the rise. “I personally find beauty in the subtle intricacies of a minimal and timeless style juxtaposed with unexpected piercings like a tiny diamond in a forward helix.”
The inner lobe is also predicted to have it’s moment. “Positioned discretely near where the ear meets the skin, close to the face, it shares a similar (though sometimes longer) healing time as a traditional lobe piercing. Similar to cartilage piercings, it offers a bold statement but with a shorter healing period.”
As for the eyebrow piercing Renaissance Elordi and Fennell may have inadvertently instigated? Let’s hope it leads to less post-nightclub kebab tears this time around.