Hot Couture | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

November 14, 2007 News » Cover Story

Hot Couture 

Black Chandelier founder Jared Gold reaps what he sews.

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Death From Above
In New York City’s Gramercy Park Hotel on Sept. 9, 2001, Gold and his mother sat at twin Yamaha grand pianos and played a duet by Aram Khachaturian to the crowd assembled in the Wedgewood Room to see his Golden Syndrome collection.

The collection was about “the quiet dusty moment before the rain begins,” he wrote at the time. Earlier that year, he’d set up Black Chandelier as a T-shirt line. With his darker ideas shifted to the T-shirts, Gold pursued a sensual, sexy mood with Golden Syndrome. The dresses were light, their lines clean and he used colors new to his work like turquoise and pomegranate.

The New York Times’ Amy Spindler wrote it was “the most charming show ever witnessed.” Japanese buyers were flying in to buy “the most beautiful collection I’ve ever done,” Gold says. “Everything was going perfectly for me.”

When he and his boyfriend woke up in a New York hotel room on Sept. 11, the world had changed. His parents, frantic at the TV coverage of the World Trade Center Twin Towers’ collapse, burst into his room. They all went down to Hudson Street to see for themselves what had happened. An army of white zombies emerged from the inferno’s dust storms, their eyes red from the dust and crying. Body parts littered the street, the smell of burning flesh and hair hung heavy in the air.

The Japanese buyers never made it to New York. The collection was stuck in Gold’s hotel. “It vaporized into the strata,” he says.

He went back to Los Angeles, but his luck didn’t improve. “I went from group after group of people trying to use me to make their company look like it had any validity in the fashion world.”

Those investors, he says, “were kind of the end of me in L.A.”

In 2003, Gold retreated to Salt Lake City. “I wanted to come here, I needed the support [of nearby family and friends].” All he had to his name was a beaten-up car, which exploded shortly after he reached Utah, and the Black Chandelier trademark.

Surber was happy to see his ex-lover. He’d always wanted to start a business with a boyfriend. Now he had the chance, he says, to help a friend. Surber owned a public-company shell Gold could use to set up funding for selling his clothes wholesale to stores like Barneys in New York City. The financier helped fund clothing production. Despite having been burned by past investors, Gold saw his business partner in a different light. “Richard has no interest in the creative part of it, so it’s perfect,” Gold says, adding, “as perfect as it could be, I guess.”

Gentlemen’s Agreement
Gold became president of the shell, which was renamed Dark Dynamite, and reverse-merged Black Chandelier into it in 2004. Surber sold the shell to a Chinese amusement park company in November 2005. Shortly after, Gold’s wholesale business collapsed after just one season. “We were really struggling being in Utah,” Gold says. He couldn’t get the fabric he wanted or communicate with his contacts.

In 2006, Surber, as first creditor, foreclosed on Black Chandelier’s assets, including the logo, and took them into Nexia, along with Gold. “In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Once again I lose everything,’” Gold says. But it’s OK, he adds. He trusts Surber to ensure that he will receive his financial due in the end. The designer recently received $250,000 in Nexia Class C stock. Surber owns all the Class A voting stock.

Before foreclosure, partly on a whim, partly to test the market, Gold and Surber leased out, for the 2004 holiday season, space in Trolley Square. While Gold says all they need is a good Web-based store, Surber has pushed to open three more stores in Utah. Surber admits that the three stores openings were “maybe a little too fast.” But Nexia, Gold adds, had to open the stores to show investors they were growing.

Surber says his “interest lies in building a forest.” That forest will consist of both Black Chandelier stores and new branches of a hair salon run by Matthew Landis in downtown Salt Lake City, of which Nexia is the majority owner. “Between the egos of Matthew Landis and Jared Gold, if we can get them in line, it will be a forest,” Surber predicts. “If we can’t get that in line and in control and structured properly, we will have a train wreck.”

Egos aside, raising development capital, which is Surber’s job, is a crucial issue. But “it’s proving really difficult,” Surber says, to finance Black Chandelier and Landis’ expansion. Two stores in Seattle and Los Angeles closed down because of management and cash-flow issues respectively. Surber’s been trying to raise money by selling Nexia stock to a hedge fund but the Security Exchange Commission has spent more than two years analyzing Nexia’s paperwork on the deal. The slap on the wrist Surber received from the SEC in 2003 over late filings for 14 shell companies he owned or had been associated with couldn’t have helped advance his cause, either.

Despite Black Chandelier’s current financial woes, an independent auditor valued Black Chandelier at $1.7 million in 2006. But an evaluation based on potential future earnings doesn’t help Gold much. He goes months without getting paid so other bills can be met. When Gold enters Surber’s office to complain of his unpaid rent or hunger, the financier cuts him a check. Gold says he’s willing to make sacrifices because of his loyalty to his staff, Surber and his own aesthetic vision.

Gold’s family and friends worry about his vulnerability. “All my friends and family think I’m being victimized here,” he says. “I come to work every day, don’t I?” And, were he to quit, in all probability, Black Chandelier could not survive, which seems to reinforce the unspoken power-balance between the two friends.

Surber is adamant “there’s no way in hell [Gold]’s being taken advantage of.” The financier has gone $1 million in hock betting on expanding Black Chandelier into a national chain. “What does Jared lose if the whole thing fails?” he says. “Nothing.”

Fashion writer Pike thinks the relationship adds up. “It’s very hard to stay true to yourself and have a financial partner,” she says. “The challenge is to get married to someone and not have to compromise.”

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