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Hot Couture

Black Chandelier founder Jared Gold reaps what he sews.

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Black and Blue
Los Angeles Magazine’s style editor Laurie Pike traces Gold’s aesthetic to his LDS upbringing in Idaho. “A lot of the greatest fashion talent comes from small towns where you create your own world, instead of reading Vogue,” she says.

Gold grew up in Idaho Falls, the second son of five children of a devout LDS couple, Susie and Gary Gold. “You got new clothes once a year when school started,” Gold recalls. “Three shirts and two pants, and those were the clothes you wore all year.” Coming from a modest background, “makes you a little more ballsy,” he continues. “You’re not afraid of [poverty] happening to you, because you’ve already been there.”

Not that he had time to think of himself as poor. He and his two brothers would get their father to zip them up in garment bags and roll them down the Idaho sand dunes for hours on end. His mother read the entire L. Frank Baum’s Oz series to them. Gold’s logo of a monocled bunny for Black Chandelier’s high-end Jared Gold line is a riff on characters from the series. Baum’s books “were such an education on my creativity, seeing how far it could go,” he says.

When Gold was 10, he met 11-year-old Dame Darcy. They spent summers hunting ghosts in abandoned houses that other children would have been terrified going into. Along with ghost hunting, Gold nurtured from an early age his passion for experimenting with fashion grounded in his thrift-based values and upbringing. As a teen, he took apart a broken antique mantle clock and stuck the screws all over his shoes. Then he drew a virus on a men’s dress shirt from a thrift store. “I thought what I was doing was interesting, that people would understand that.”

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All that fellow junior high students understood, however, was that Gold was different. Their bullying peaked during his senior year. Posters advertising fun events, parties, a trip to Lagoon, would always have a sneering caricature of Gold in a corner saying he was doing something different. When Gary Gold went to the school to complain to the principal about his son’s treatment, he wept at the sight of the posters.

“One person acted like his friend, then hit him in the face,” his mother remembers. She feels part of her son does not open up because of those experiences. Gold agrees it changed him. “But I wouldn’t be what I am right now if I hadn’t gone through what I did.”

He graduated from school in 1990 two weeks early and went to Brigham Young University-Hawaii to study piano and languages. But when he decided he didn’t want to compete in music, he returned to Idaho. There he organized raves with themes like “Alice in Wonderland.” He turned the inside of a large building into a two-story house of cards with snails that people could ride around in. In his garage he designed court-jester hats and T-shirts with screen-printing ink you could taste. Then, at 19, he jetted to Lollapalooza concerts all over United States selling rave clothing.

When he was 21, he moved to Salt Lake City and made “spacey-looking lingerie,” he says, for Blue Boutique. One night in 1993 at a club, Gold’s stuck-on horns, yellow shirt and platform shoes caught the eye of 21-year-old Richard Surber.

Brain Melt
Surber came to Utah from Florida at age 17 to study finance and law and work with his uncle, Allen Z. Wolfson. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Wolfson was convicted of, among other things, bank fraud and making illegal political contributions, the latter resulting in him doing two years in jail. Convicted in 2003 of securities fraud, Wolfson has spent the last four years in a Brooklyn jail awaiting sentencing. But when Surber and Gold met, uncle and nephew were enjoying happier times working together to turn around troubled businesses.

Surber and Gold dated for two years. If a mutual sense of ambition brought them together, Gold says, differing emotional needs eventually split them up, but they still remained friends. In 1996, Gold left Salt Lake City to go to Otis College of Art & Design in Los Angeles. With 70 hours of homework a week his first year, there was no time for work. “I was practically starving,” Gold says. “I stayed up all night making party dresses for rich girls so I could eat.”

In his second year at Otis, Gold worked at Los Angeles’ famous high-end clothing store, Fred Segal. Its renowned buyer, Mara White, urged him to strike out on his own.

Pike was the only journalist at Gold’s first runway collection in 1998, entitled “Haunted Wallpaper.” It was “the very essence of why I thought L.A. fashion was so exciting at that time,” she says. The models’ dresses featured Victorian silhouettes, and they sported live Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Gold’s approach was from “this twisted carnival point of view that was so fresh,” Pike recalls. “It was definitely one of the best fashion shows I’ve ever been to.”

When Gold was offered a crack at a major runway show by the Gen Art Foundation in spring 2001, he decided he would give the fashion industry both barrels with his Black Dahlia collection.

In his design statement for that collection, Gold wrote that, without focusing on the infamous 1947 murder of Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Short, “we move directly to the point in which her separated spirit and body were alone in the Hollywood Hills with the darkness, crickets and hushed breeze.” Gold had models walking down the runway with their teeth blacked out, wearing masks that mimicked marionettes hanging from their outstretched hands.

Some journalists were less than impressed. “Usually, when people get an opportunity like this, they want to make it sellable,” he recalls one critic saying about his show. “But Jared came out and melted our brains.” The show, Gold says, did exactly what he wanted. “I called [the fashion industry] out: This is what I want, this is what I like, and this is what we’re going to do, and that’s final.”

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