While tweeting about the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, we discovered that the designer behind Johnny Weir’s glorious lid, Kerin Rose Gold, is a member of Fug Nation. Fortunately for us all, Kerin was willing to chat with us about this (unfortunately for me personally, we live across the country from each other, and so I had to do it over e-mail as opposed to over a glass or three of something zippy), and in doing so we discovered that she’s ALSO the creative brain behind custom eyewear for the likes of Katy Perry and Rihanna, and other Gaga-ian accessories for the Lady herself. So sit back and enjoy, because this sucker includes fire, knives, crystals, Red Hots… or, in the immortal words of SNL’s Stefan, It. Has. Everything.
GFY: Let’s jump straight into Johnny Weir before we back out and talk about the other stuff. Had you worked with him before?
KERIN: Yes, Johnny came to me as a client a few years ago, and as a longtime nutso fan of figure-skating I was very excited to meet him. He started just purchasing pieces from me, and then some gloves I made were used on the cover of his book, and somehow we became friends. We view the world similarly. And he’s even more wonderful off camera. His eye for design, and his eye for personal style, are very authentic and very unique. I understand the concept of fashion as fun, as art, and as a method of self-expression in the same way that he does.
GFY: That hat was sitting quite far forward on his forehead. How the heck did you secure that so it didn’t fall right off? Did you test it so that you knew it would be stable?
KERIN: The hat was secured with a thick headband, with the ends connected with elastic. Black, to match Johnny’s hair, natch. That was the only part that had me nervous, but I only had to move the placement of the headband once before it worked. And I made sure I could thrash around in it before shipping it out.
GFY: Here is where I show that I know embarrassingly NOTHING about things: Construction-wise, is it just a wire frame, adorned with all the trim? Is the Pegasus, like, hot-glued up in there? (I can’t even draw stick people.)
KERIN: Don’t be embarrassed; I wouldn’t know how to go about writing a book or turning a blog into a gig for Vanity Fair; we all have our strengths. Yes, I used a small base and built a frame out from that, including some buckram structuring to keep the feathers not just up, but going the slightest bit out as well. The Pegasus is secured into half of a Styrofoam sphere with hot glue. A little note about hot glue: People give the glue gun a lot of flack, and it’s really unfair. I have approximately 10 different adhesives in my studio and each one serves a different purpose. Styrofoam is great for headwear because it creates a lot of volume with almost zero weight, and the heat of the glue gun melts the surface of the Styrofoam and helps fuse the items you’re trying to hold down in a way that most other glues don’t in that situation.
GFY: As for the gilded Pegasus on top. Was that something you had to make, or an object you procured and then fancied up?
KERIN: With enough time I can pretty much source anything. I’ve had custom pieces made (I had “claws” made for a pair of monster claw glasses for Lady Gaga) – but depending on cost and time it’s not always the best option. In this case I sourced the Pegasus online and customized it. The Pegasus hair, wings, and hoof were painted gold, and embellished with 24 karat gold crystals.
GFY: How did the hat have to travel so that it didn’t get crushed? Big hat box? Did you ship it? How do you preserve the sanctity of the hat?!?
KERIN: Wrapped in tissue and FedEx’d! I am not a delicate flower, so I tend to make pieces very sturdy. Of course I wrapped it in tissue paper because I’m a LADY.
[As I proofread this, I realized I was saying that last bit in my head exactly like Yvette from Clue: “No, Madame, AH am a LAY-DEE.” Anyway. Moving on. -H]
GFY: If America were ever to become a place where we wore hats as much as the Brits do (PLEASE GOD), what would a custom hat run me? Or a custom sparkly pacifier?
KERIN: I have an ever growing collection of hats of various sizes (my boyfriend refers to it as ‘hat mountain’, and is a wonderful breed of man who thinks a fascinator in the shape of a fortune cookie or buckram bunny ears on his lady is adorable) and I am doing everything I can do make hats de rigueur in America, along with fanciful eyewear. I am a huge fan of doing things within a person’s budget. Swarovski-free commissioned work will cost a few hundred dollars at least.
GFY: How did you get into this type of design? What drew you to eyewear in particular?
KERIN: You know how you can’t help who you fall in love with? It’s was very much the same for me and eyewear design. I went to NYU and studied pop culture history, worked in music marketing and alternative marketing from the time I was in college, and for metaphor’s sake let’s just say I got the 7 year itch. I left the marketing industry, got into a Master’s program at NYU for costuming history, and took a year off to be broke and work part time at Patricia Field. Art has always been a part of my life, but not in a professional way. I had no interest in eyewear at the time, but I needed some new sunglasses, so I bought a pair and put some crystals on them and: voila. I was in love. It started unofficially in the fall of 2008 and I showed my first full collection at Paris market week in February of 2011, and I was honored as a New Talent with Vogue Italia and showed my second collection in Milan. Now A-Morir is a line of luxury artisanal eyewear sold very selectively in approximately two dozen high-end multibrand boutiques around the world.
GFY: How is A-Morir pronounced? I feel like ever since Alicia Silverstone came out as A-lee-see-a, I have a weird obsession with whether I’m saying things correctly in my head. Actually maybe that’s normal, I don’t know. Also: Where did it come from?
A-Morir is pronounced “Ah More Ear” – it comes from a video triptych by the Argentinian artist Miguel Angel Rios: it’s a black and white video of 100 spinning wooden tops fighting to the death. I saw it in Madrid in 2005, my last semester of college, and I have no idea why, but it moved me. The “until death” or “until I die” meaning is what I hope people feel when they look at my eyewear work; I want a little piece of them to die inside, and when they purchase the item I want them to have it forever. I didn’t want to name the line after myself, because while I don’t know what the future holds, I didn’t want to get to a point where I sold my line and then no longer owned my own name.
GFY: How many people do you have working there now? How much of the crafting are you able to do personally and how much do you have to oversee?
KERIN: There was a period when I was doing everything myself, but I’ve had an incredible intern-turned-assistant, Cara, since 2010, and in the last year she’s taken over the bulk of the production. She said the other day that I’m the brain and she’s the hands, and that’s pretty much true. I do all of the design, make all of the samples, do all of the special projects, and develop the business, while she has really taken on handling the hundreds of pairs that go out to clients at the boutiques who order from us or the customers who purchase directly from our e-shop. I also have one rainbow of an intern who we affectionately call “Nugget” but I’m looking for more – so if you’re in NYC and feel like having fun for college credit email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why!
GFY: When did you get your first celebrity commission? What was it? Or, if that wasn’t the way the door kicked open (so to speak), what WAS the first big Holy Shit moment?
KERIN: Katy Perry was the first big celebrity to wear A-Morir [the eyewear line], six or so months after I started. She performed at a Paper Magazine party in our heart shaped Schubert eyewear and wouldn’t take them off. A few months after that a personal stylist who worked with Rihanna saw a friend of mine in a pair of Love/Hate chain glasses, and got my info to pass on to her, so when she came to NYC and went shopping at Patricia Field she asked to meet me, and the rest was history. She bought 4 pair, wore the chain ones out to dinner the day she got them, and it propelled me forward much faster than I was expecting. The first commission came from Rihanna in the summer of 2009; she was filming the “Run This Town” video and wanted glasses that were “black” and like “nothing that had ever been seen before” – and I came up with the stud covered Barracuda frames. They matriculated into my collection but they were a one-of-a-kind for Rihanna for a few months. She wore them for the inaugural “Fashion’s Night Out” and really gave them an iconic moment that had a much broader reach than the music video that had come out a month or so before.
GFY: What percent of your business is celebrity stuff, and what percent is custom for other customers? Do you do retail stuff as well, or ALL custom?
KERIN: The celebrity stuff is a relatively small percentage, and when it comes to A-Morir eyewear what you see is usually pieces pulled from my collections. That’s why I’ve separated A-Morir and Kerin Rose Gold; the fun projects like a painted bodysuit for Lady Gaga, clay masks for Philipp Plein, or the hat for Johnny Weir need a separate platform, and it helps show people that my creativity is not just limited to eyewear. In short: A-Morir is an eyewear line that puts out two collections a year, goes to market in Paris, and is available for purchase. Kerin Rose Gold pieces are non-eyewear art and costume pieces that are usually one of a kind for clients.
GFY: What is the collaborate process like in general? Does the client usually come in with a fully-formed idea, or is there more give and take? How many sketches and revisions are done before you get going? Do you do fittings?
KERIN: Because I deal with accessories it’s usually secondary, and with outfit planning the accessories are often left until the outfit is finalized. I sketch rarely, have yet to do a fitting, but I’ve been very lucky that the stylists I work with trust me to do what I do. In the case of Johnny and the hat he knew he wanted something with a Pegasus, and sent me some reference images of other feather headdresses he loved, like the Gareth Pugh piece we’re both obsessed with. And because he and I are friends, we took the time to go shopping for supplies; I got to the trim shop early, pulled out what I thought would work, and he was on board. He and I have a synergy as friends that thankfully translated to a creative collaboration seamlessly.
GFY: Who first asked you to make something other than eyewear? What was it?
KERIN: I’ve been working with Lady Gaga for many years, first when she was with Nicola Formichetti and now when she’s with Brandon Maxwell. Brandon was Nicola’s assistant, and he and I communicated all of the time and developed a friendship out of working together – when she shot her ad campaign for Supreme they asked for some pieces customized the night before, and Nicola and Brandon thought I could do it. I got the pieces in the evening and had to deliver them to the studio at 9 a.m. the next day – I made a cropped hoodie embellished with nails, beefsteak knives, gold flakes, tar, and I definitely set it on fire in my apartment to give the edges an authentic burned look. Generally for custom pieces I’ll get some key words, maybe a reference image or two, and then I send photos of my progress. Thankfully they rarely involve edits.
GFY: I love the way you said, “I definitely set it on fire in my apartment.” Like, I read it with italics on definitely, as in, “You are damn right I did.” What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever been commissioned to make? And what was the most fun?
KERIN: Nothing feels bizarre anymore. I just did a crystal encrusted pacifier and a crystal encrusted pacifier necklace for Lady Gaga and the artRAVE that she’s already been photographed with, and I pave’d hand weights for an issue of V Magazine. The most fun was definitely the bodysuit I painted for Lady Gaga for her H&M Artpop launch. And the boots I’ve done for Gaga have definitely been the most beautiful; 8000-plus Swarovski Crystals fully covering a pair of 4’’ ankle boots are really breathtaking. [See slideshow for those]
GFY: Holy cow AGAIN. How long did those boots take? Is it just you and Cara and a glue gun and a lot of caffeine?
The shoes I actually do by myself. I usually have to work on them overnight, and I find a serenity in completing a project of that magnitude. I do not use a glue gun on those; it’s not the correct adhesive for that kind of project. But each crystal is put on one at a time. And while I do work fast, and often have to turn the shoes around in a few days, it is a very VERY sleepless few days.
**Gaga wore the black shoes for the VMAs, the red shoes for Good Morning America, the white shoes for the finale of her Roseland shows (and for her performance on Letterman)
GFY: And what was your favorite in terms of the sheer beauty of it?
KERIN: The most exciting custom piece I’ve made with A-Morir were the eyeglasses for Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP promo; it was a few more than a dozen eyewear lenses suspended to a vintage measuring frame giving it the feeling of a floating mobile of lenses. A truly bizarre and truly beautiful piece. The most fun and bizarre piece I’ve done with A-Morir was hands down for Katy Perry; her stylist Johnny Wujek had created a brilliant movie themed costume for her movie premiere. He called me up two days before and asked me to make cat eye glasses with movie candy on them, so I made red crystal eyewear with Red Hots and Mike and Ikes on them, and a more elaborate pair with gold Lucite wings and gold spray painted popcorn along the brow, and she went with the Red Hots. That one was super fun.
GFY: Any stories about an item gone awry where you really had to bust it to pull it together?
KERIN: I am always working against the clock. Everything I do is like an elaborate magic act that I can’t talk to anyone about because I’m superstitious. The aforementioned Gaga bodysuit had to be fully covered in acrylic paint – and dry – in six hours. I’ll get requests for custom eyewear for a photo shoot at 6 p.m. when FedEx closes at 9. Last week while working on Johnny and Gaga projects a deadline for some veiled eyewear for a bridal shower got moved from Thursday night to Wednesday afternoon and we magically finished a 10 piece order and hand delivered it in the torrential rain within two hours.
GFY: You should get a bonus. Or hazard pay. Or… an invitation to the shower, at least (I kind of wish I had been invited). Do you keep a detailed personal catalog of all these things you’ve made, even just to walk down memory lane on your own time?
KERIN: Yes, I photograph everything in the photo studio I have set up at my studio, and on my iphone. Even though there are plenty of pieces that I make that never see the light of day having a catalogue of the work that has been done is important. I did a pair of shoes for Gaga that never got used and that turned into a commission for a microphone for a new client.
GFY: What other funky collaborations do you have coming up that you can talk about? And do you think you’ll do more hats, or more of anything for Johnny?
KERIN: I just finished up some pink crystal pacifiers for Gaga – super excited to see some footage of her new tour that involves video of her sucking on it while swinging in a swing and wearing white mink fur goggles I did based on my “Flint” pair. I never have anything on the books; in the last few years I’ve always had a few days’ notice to finish projects. I’m about to start a purple pave’d microphone for a new client which will be fun for sure.
GFY. Weirdest on-the-job injury? Any other unusual work tales you have to share would be highly welcomed. This is where my skills and suavitude as an interviewer reveal themselves to be nil.
KERIN: I have yet to get injured on the job (but I did cut myself at home twice last week). I’ve gotten glue everywhere, and will find crystals EVERYWHERE. In my underwear, in the shower, in my shoes… same goes for my friends. We’ll hang out and a week later I’ll get a text message “Um, I found a crystal in my bed?” Meanwhile I’ve never even been to their apartment. Also you’ll be surprised (or not too surprised) at how many straight guys want to know if I’ve ever bedazzled a dildo.
GFY: Now I kind of want to ask (I also would’ve been afraid the next sentence will be, ‘Because I’ve actually got one here…’) Is that, like, the final frontier? IS there one that, design-wise, you can’t imagine crossing?
KERIN: I have not bedazzled a dildo – and I would totally do one, it would just have to be glass. Silicone and rubber do not take adhesive. I’m working on personal art projects of bedazzling pills, so I’ve done two Tylenol, an Advil and I’m working on an orange medication bottle. I also bedazzled a candy corn which was hard because the glue dissolves the sugar. I would never EVER cross the vajazzling threshold – I don’t believe in god, but I’ve heard the vagina referred to as “God’s Diamond” and there is never a good reason to put crystals on a diamond.
That is the best button I could’ve ever hoped to get. Thank you to Kerin for taking the time to answer our questions, especially on such a spur-of-the-moment invitation. Twitter is the magic.