a lot of local businesses have tried to play a part in fashion, very
few achieved the symbolic presence of The Black Chandelier. For a
period of time the store and brandname were almost totally synonymous
with all things local fashion, putting Jared Gold ahead of his peers
and a spotlight on any brand that made its way to their shelves. But
in more recent times the stores closed up, designers went off to do their own work, and Jared moved
on from the Utah roots to a more national level. And in a short span of time the line was nearly forgotten.
Rachael Domingo served under Jared for a number of years, learning the ropes of the business and essentially becoming a better and more recognized designer in a number of ways. All while establishing herself with her skills beyond the design team and the brand. Now officially taking over the Black Chandelier brand she hopes to bring back the unique style and recognition it once had in the region. I recently got a chance to chat with her about his career and plans for the future, as well as visiting the downtown showroom location for photos where she's currently designing the next line in the brand.
Gavin: Hey Rachael! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Rachael: I'm a weird art girl with an over-active imagination that often causes the thousand-yard stare. I was born and raised by a couple of hippies in downtown Salt Lake City and had a vivid colorful childhood. For as long as I can remember I have had an insatiable appetite for creative venues, however it took me a while accept that art was going to be my life. As a child I was set on becoming a chinchilla breeder/veterinarian. I shadowed a vet when I was in the fourth grade and on the first day I witnessed a Doberman Pincher get neutered... It was the most nauseating experience, instantly crushing my childhood dream of being a heroic animal saving veterinarian. Later, my chinchilla gave birth to two unexpected babies in her outdoor cage in the middle of winter and I found them frozen into two rock-hard bloody balls - their fur never able to dry upon entering this cold world. I was completely devastated and forced to reconsider my highest aspirations. I've come through harder circumstances since, but one thing I never put down was my pencil, and it's in many ways brought me through my tangled adventure. I love the extraordinary and severity. I love creatures still, but have learned to not put a cage around them to do so! I'm a hard driver with a love for life, and all things tragically beautiful.
Gavin: What first got you interested in design work and fashion?
Rachael: I had very few outside influences that could possibly be responsible for steering me toward fashion. My mother home-schooled me and my siblings through junior high to prevent us from being pre-programed into mainstream society. She was very modest, never wore make-up and made it a point to steer us away from pop culture and other possibly corrupt venues such as the fashion industry. However there was something ticking early on in my head that resonated with fashion that only gained momentum with time. I remember sitting in my playhouse with my best friend practicing insistently to correctly draw a high heeled shoe. I would draw countless pictures of women decked out in my latest dress and jewelry designs and plaster my walls with these sketches. It was just very natural to me. I played dress-up daily for years and I was fascinated with creative hair styles, wallpaper, dresses, belts, shoes etc. Nothing made me more happy than new clothes. By the time I was sixteen I finally pinpointed fashion design as my chosen career path and much to my mother's and grandmother's dismay, began making plans to go to fashion school.
Gavin: You went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising for schooling. Why did you choose them, and what was their program like for you?
Rachael: FIDM was very forward with their promotion. I had considered several different fashion colleges. I was interested in FIT in New York, but the stories of cold New York winters deterred me. It came down to Otis on L.A. or FIDM. I sent in my portfolio packet to an adviser at FIDM and was instantly contacted by a very persuasive woman who ended up coming to Salt Lake for one of the schools promotional conferences and meeting with me personally. With little other support I felt very welcomed by the administration at FIDM, and was also offered an entry scholarship, so I resolved to raise the remaining funds to attend at the Los Angeles campus. The program at FIDM was very challenging! Girls and guys were dropping like flies all over! I qualified for the "professional designation" program which is all fashion design oriented. I was eighteen at the time, so having no idea what to expect, I was surprised by how technical the design process actually was. I breezed through my fashion illustration and visual presentation assignments, but had to really apply myself in the other courses that were very new to me. Over-all I had a great experience at FIDM. I graduated magma cum laude and in 2002, I developed an understanding of how intense and demanding the fashion industry is, and I gained the skills and knowledge necessary to survive in wild competition.
Gavin: What made you decide to come back to Utah to earn your BFA at the U? And how was it switching programs?
Rachael: Two reasons. First, I had a four-year scholarship to the U of U that I originally was going to bypass, but my grandparents (who are educators and very influential people in my life) had begrudgingly supported my decision to attend fashion school were now urging me to take advantage of my scholarship to get a "real degree" before diving into a career in fashion, (they wished not to see me embrace). Second, one thing my experience at FIDM had lacked was much artistic advancement. Visual art was and is a huge part of who I am and upon Graduation at FIDM, I was feeling quite starved in the area of art. All of the art I did at FIDM was very structured and industry-purpose related. I was dying to let the animal out of the cage and make a mess! So I decided to come back to Utah and as quickly as possible earn my BA in fine art/illustration before returning to California or New York to work in fashion. I absolutely hated attending the U of U at first. I found out that the art programs at the U had a non-waivable two years of pre-art before you can embark on your desired area of emphasis. I was so upset by the extra two years I hadn't anticipated. I felt like I was wasting my time. I didn't want to do half the assignments, I just wanted to be done and get out of there. I came very close to quitting, and had a horrible attitude. The pre-art classes forced me to work with new mediums and look at art from a new perspective. Eventually I was hooked and had some profound breakthroughs with my art prompted by assignments, dedicated instructors and the will to finish. So looking back, it was an essential experience for my growth as an artist and an individual.
Gavin: How did the opportunity to work with Jared Gold come about?
Rachael: I was attending the U and working at a coffee shop, frustrated over not being able to find and local fashion work beyond ski outerwear. One of the Black Chandelier graphic designers came into my work one day and I overheard him talking about a fashion company photo shoot. I instantly interrupted and introduced myself. I was asked to come in and intern. When I walked into Jared Gold's design studio for the first time I almost bust into tears. I was so excited. It reminded me of the the fashion lofts back in L.A. I was all nerves meeting Jared. He gave me my first assignment: a fitted jacket collar correction. I instantly pulled my skills together and re-worked he jacket into what he had in mind. Soon I was making patterns for the "Glinka" collection between work and school, and after three months I was hired onto the team.
Gavin: What was it like for you working under his guidance, and helping his business take off the way it did?
Rachael: Working for Jared was a truly magical experience for me. Jared is has a very unique approach to fashion that is embedded in an often untraceable lake of psychology and muses. He was always surprising the design team and he propelled all of us into another level of artistic progression. I was always very concerned with the vitality of the company and Jared gave me a lot of freedom to assist in the every many aspects of the company's advancement. When I began my internship with Jared Gold the studio was bare bones with only a few sewing machines, two graphic designers and Jared himself. I was able to be a part of every step in the growth leading up to four retail stores. We all wore many hats to keep the company operating, but we were a one time a great team of inspired creative types working together to create something indescribable.
Gavin: What was it like for you seeing your designs show up on a national stage and gain the you the reputation you have for your designs?
Rachael: Very surreal. I remember one moment backstage for the "Glinka" runway show in Los Angeles for spring fashion week and looking and my team members and screaming at the top of my lungs in excitement! There I was wearing the clothing I had made the patterns for about to get on the runway to show my work to a real-deal crowd in the city I had run off to at age eighteen with nothing more than a big dream in my head. It was incredibly satisfying to see my efforts come full circle. As other collections were designed out, it was very fascinating to see the public reactions to things I had designed. I love to make people feel inspired by the clothing I make.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a design, from sketch to finish product?
Rachael: Oh man... First I have to eat lots of sugar and lettuce generally. Next a mentally grueling process of making note of every influence, notion, trend, etc. that has in anyway engaged my attention in the last six months and compile a new mental dictionary to work from. Then it's usually more sugar or tea. I begin sketching with the fabric, and manufacturing capabilities in mind and go until all the ideas run out. When I have sketched out a cohesive collection I begin the patterning or draping process. This step is very technical and crucial to the fit and overall success of the garment, so depending on the complexity of the design it can take anywhere from an hour to weeks to complete this step. Once the pattern is complete I sew up a mock up in a similar fabric and and test it for fit and drape. If the sample is successful I then grade the pattern according to the sizes I want and fill out a cost sheet to determine the cost of each garment before it is designated for production. Finally the pattern is either cut out by me and sewn in it's chosen fabrication, or sent out to be manufactured in larger quantities. When working with a clothing manufacturer, I work as part of a team and am primarily responsible for effectively communicating all garment details to the project head and the visual outcome and fit of my original concept sketch.
Gavin: What brought about the end of the design team, and what's your overall take on that point in time.
Rachael: It's very complicated, and involves many factors, however, from my perspective it was largely do to internal relational conflicts and a lack of focus toward the end. We were all trying to do so much and keep the stores running. We were over-expanding our product categories in my opinion, and that said, other team members would disagree. It was a very difficult time for everyone. What was once a humming team of designers had become a quarreling group of diaper rash children all trying to avoid the train wreck waiting to happen. Our last show together in Salt Lake was intensely beautiful and perhaps our grandest showing yet, but behind the scenes there was a lot of negativity breeding, and it was just after that that the Black Chandelier as is was fell apart.
Gavin: How was it for you working freelance for various companies during that period?
Rachael: I knew there was nothing comparable to The Black Chandelier in the Utah at the time. I began making plans to move and in the meantime did some work for the costume department for "High School Musical", and began teaching a class at the community college for their fashion program. I was also looking into the possibility of starting my own company and working with manufacturers in India who I had established relationships with. It was interesting to be out on my own networking and taking on unique projects, but nothing was hitting the spot for me. At one point Danny Nappy, the new designer for Black Chandelier approached me about assisting him with the continuation of the BC line, but at that point I was really hungry to have more design control.
Gavin: What brought about the decision to take over the Black Chandelier?
Rachael: I was en rout to begin my company when I experienced a horrible accident. I broke my back and almost died. I didn't have health insurance, so my credit was instantly destroyed by over 200k in medical debt. I was completely derailed. It took an entire year to recover during which time I had plenty of time to re-evaluate my life and my goals. I went through a phase of panic that left me doubting by desire to be an artist/designer. I thought about going back to school and doing something medical, or something more "meaningful." I really wrestled with all of these thoughts and became very depressed. I never stopped painting through my recovery though and it really helped me listen to the deepest part of me that still wanted to create. As I got my strength back I began to make plans again to move to a more art/design oriented city. During this time I heard that the last BC store had closed and Danny Nappi had moved on. I woke up one morning soon after with a itch to go talk to the owner of the Black Chandelier, Richard Surber, to see what his plans were with the BC label if any. My meeting with him resulted in an agreement to take what we had both learned and revive the label.
Gavin: What's it been like for you formally taking charge and becoming accustomed to being the boss?
Rachael: I tend to be a natural leader, so in this respect it's been nice to be able to make executive decisions and feel like all of my efforts are being channeled directly into the sustainability of the company. Having complete design control has been immensely liberating and satisfying. I enjoy being responsible for the over-all success and direction of the company, but with it has come a huge lesson in commitment. When I just want to forget about things and go play, I cannot unless everything is squared away.
Gavin: What are some of the plans you currently have in store for the current line and others in-store?
Rachael: My immediate goals have involved restructuring the BC sales strategy. I'd like to see the BC label as a functioning woman's apparel wholesale line by spring 2011. It's coming up very soon, so I have begun the design process and sales strategy outline for that line already. In the meantime I am selling existing BC and Jared Gold merchandise as well as printing fresh men's t-shirts to sell through my three current retailer accounts in the Salt Lake area and working on re-instating brand awareness through local fashion events. I am looking into a fall fashion runway event to take place in November where the spring 2011 wholesale line will debut. As soon as possible, I want to integrate men's designer wear into the wholesale offering as well.
Gavin: A little local, what are your thoughts on our fashion scene, both good and bad?
Rachael: Utah is a beautiful place, it's no wonder we have some amazing talent here as well. The good thing about Utah's fashion scene is that it's finally kicking and people are starting to get their work out there. The bad thing is that Utahns tend to be afraid of standing out and being themselves, so instead of using their energy to make new waves, it's often wasted looking to accomplish the current "look" which is usually about three years behind on a global scale.
Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Rachael: YES! Teamwork. If there is one thing that holds true about the fashion industry, it's the fact that it only exists because of a dynamic network of individuals who value and understand each others skills and unique assets. If local designers can drop their fears and realize we're all in this together, I think we'll see some major movement. This is beginning to happen and it's exciting to be apart of!
Gavin: Who are some of your favorite local designers at the moment?
Rachael: Michelle Boucher, (because she's part Asian like me), and Jordan Halvertson, (because he gave me two of his awesome dresses). The cool thing about these two is, I've been able to watch their progression over the years and they are both very hard workers who love what they do. Michelle is great at incorporating costume-like details into daily wear, which is very hard to do, and Jordan makes a must have dinosaur migration hat that I love!
Gavin: What are your thoughts about other local retailers and how they deal with local products?
Rachael: Overall I find most local retailers are very enthusiastic about carrying local brands. I have really enjoyed getting to know and working with the retail owners through the city. Once again it's all about teamwork and they are a major part of why designers are able to get started here in SLC.
Gavin: Do you have any favorite shops you like to work with or shop from?
Rachael: Currently I have the Black Chandelier brand in Mary Jane's in Park City, Salt Lake Citizen, Peach Boutique, and Frosty Darling. The owners of these shops have all be great to work with. I would like to expand this list when the spring wholesale line is ready.
Gavin: What's your take on Fashion Stroll and the part its played recently?
Rachael: Fashion Stroll is an excellent venue, granted it has much room for improvement. It's really stirred up the scene and has given many designers a place and time to show their work inexpensively. Every Fashion Stroll I've attended has had a very exciting energy about it. I encourage everyone who appreciates original design and community development to come out and support the local talent.
Gavin: What can we expect from both Black Chandelier and yourself the rest of the year?
Rachael: Integrity most importantly. The BC label has has a bumpy past, and this industry can be very hard to navigate, but and I am committed to managing the Black Chandelier with honesty and respect. Art and the importance of creativity will remain the reason why the Black Chandelier exists. I want to provide clothing that inspires and continue to educate the public about the art of fashion design. When people tell me they aren't into fashion, I tell them to take off all their cloths. The psychology of dressing ourselves is very fascinating to me and as a designer and a visual artist, it's great to see people connect to a designed garment similarly to the way they do a painting or other piece of art. As far as direction and growth, there are currently no plans to re-open a retail store, however the design room doubles as a showroom (59 West 100 South) where people may shop Monday-Wednesday from 1-5PM. Currently my focus is to expand the list of retailers carrying Black Chandelier, and increase on-line sales.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Rachael: Oh yes - people! Come to the following events: June 19th, fashion show at Diva's Coffee shop in Salt Lake. This will be an intimate garden party style event featuring three local designers including Black Chandelier by Rachael Domingo. Contact Diva's Coffee for all the details. June 26th, Black Chandelier and five other local designers will collaborate with the Hive Gallery in Trolley Square and Jake Garn to throw an evening of art, fashion photography and fashion design. If you don't know much about fashion this is your opportunity to change that. All of the designers will be there to explain their collections and work progress. There will be a behind the scenes documentary and time to meet everyone and ask questions. The runway show will begin at 7:30PM. The BC website is currently being reworked, but visit and sign up for the mailing list so we can keep you updated. We are also accepting interns at the Black Chandelier studio. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone who want's to get first hand industry experience!