This is part of a special series, Indulgence, which explores extravagant living in a time of restraint. It’s also in the September 2021 VICE magazine issue. Subscribe here.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the Atlanta rapper Lil Baby released a track called “The Bigger Picture.” The protest song gained considerable enough attention that he was invited to perform it at the Grammys, where it served as the soundtrack for an elaborate set piece at this year’s ceremony. Dressed in black leather as he walked through the aftermath of a police shooting, under his jacket, Lil Baby wore a bulletproof vest meticulously emblazoned with rows of tiny crystals. It was an odd choice of garment, a literally dazzling reminder of his celebrity status affixed to perhaps one of the most sad and practical items that exist.
You can’t just walk into a shop and buy a bullet-proof vest lined with crystals, nor can you purchase a crystal encrusted diaper pail, or a set of crystalized curlers, or any of the other odd objects Kerin Rose Gold—her real name—has created or customized for celebrities like Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé. What started as A-Morir, a decidedly outrageous line of eyewear, has spiraled into a studio where Gold embellishes objects sensible or otherwise, giving even the bleakest of garments a playful sheen.
The simple fact of the vest’s weird existence, and the enormous stage for which it was designed, is a tribute to the marriage of magic and craftsmanship Gold brings to each item she works on. All over her Manhattan studio are everyday objects brought to realms of the magisterial through her work. A hammer covered in crystals. A tissue box covered in crystals. Lighters, pill bottles, the heat press machine she uses to put crystals on things—all covered in crystals. The bathtub is filled with disco balls and the bathroom itself is spotted with fire engine red polka dots, in tribute to Yayoi Kusama. (Gold just moved into this space, but she anticipates the piano will be crystalized soon enough too.) When I visit on a hot July afternoon, she offers me a seat at her worktable in a plastic orange chair she got out of the trash. Behind her is a baroque credenza redolent of a Versace silk shirt.
Gold herself is not wearing anything embellished—though her well-worn Cher T-shirt has its own powerful aura—but she is mermaid-like with long pink-orange hair. Her dark roots are showing a bit and she reassures me she is getting them re-dyed before the photoshoot for this story. “In a world that’s so filled with neutrals, and blacks and grays and cream-colored walls, color just felt like a really punk rock way of expressing myself,” she says, a reading of punk that is about a vibrant celebration of individualism, not a protest against those suppressing it.
Gold herself is wearing minimal jewelry, all, fittingly, gold. Her wedding ring is her husband Nick’s name in cursive. And though she is surprisingly not much of a fan of diamonds, there is a tiny one in there, dotting the “i” in his name. (Nick is a former editor of mine, and I’ve met Gold through him several times over their relationship.) Both she and he have a love for nostalgic showbiz corniness, and in tribute to their love for each other and tele- vision, they have matching tattoos of Joey from Friends with the lyrics from the show’s theme song, “I’ll be there for you,” underneath his portrait.
Sitting at her workbench, she tells me what she’s currently working on: a jean jacket for the rapper Dess Dior to wear at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami, as well as pale blue short shorts for her backup dancers. While Gold isn’t familiar with the rapper, she has extensive relationships with stylists in the music industry through whom she gets most of her commissions.
She didn’t intend to start marketing her wares to musicians, and her success with artists is a bit of kismet. Gold herself started her career in the music business, somewhat unsuccessfully, her progress deterred by difficulty with ulcerative colitis. After being fired from a music marketing company in New Jersey, her manager gave her advice that she credits with saving her life. “He said, go work somewhere that you don’t think is part of your career. Give yourself time to figure out what you want to do. And then make a plan to go do that.” Gold decided to apply to grad school at NYU for costuming history, and for money, she got a job work- ing the sales floor at the store of the legendary designer Patricia Fields. She continued to cover her belongings, like her Blackberry, with crystals, and one day, upon seeing her homemade oversize sunglasses, one of the store’s buyers urged her to make more and sell them at the store. Soon after, Rihanna bought a pair. When she was photographed eating dinner in them, Gold was credited, and orders began pouring in.
But at the moment Gold’s nascent eyewear business began taking off, doctors found cancer in her colon. Around that time, she took a ridiculous trip to Milan, representing America as an emerging designer for Italian Vogue. The airline lost her luggage and she had to buy chic clothes that would work with her colostomy bag (she has since had her colon fully removed and has been healthy for the past decade).
As her health stabilized, she leaned in to the eyewear business, sensing a niche. “In the beginning, I was the only one doing this,” she says. “Obviously, Elton John had exhausted the genre before I was even born—like the man has an eyewear closet, it’s fucking beautiful. But when I came out, there was nothing new, there was nothing like it that was being made.” Gold pushed the limits of sensibility into overdrive and found a willing audience. “I put veils on eyewear. I cut eyewear to remove the lenses so you only have half of a frame. I covered eyewear in ceramic flowers before anyone was putting flowers on sunglasses in the 21st century.” She relays this list in a rapid, staccato flow, someone clearly proud of and a little drained by the innovations she’s made and is primarily known for. Last year, Beyoncé wore an array of Gold’s glasses in her Black Is King film. As much as a thrill, Gold viewed it as validation. “That’s my LinkedIn endorsement.”
According to Gold, it may not be the trappings of wealth that draw people to her work. “From a purely lizard brain, cave-person perspective, humans are attracted to sparkly things. It’s your body’s way of looking for water, because you always need to make sure that you’re hydrated in order to live,” Gold says. “So if you’re in the desert, if you see something sparkling, you think it’s water and you go towards that thing.” Gold herself lives this truth: She didn’t just see the water, she dove in.
Gold shows me some of the frames she has for sale now, rows and rows of strange and wonderful glasses lined up on clear acrylic shelving. Most are disco-ready, but she points out a pair with an upside-down cross, the satanic symbol omnipresent in metal iconography. At first, it’s hard to imagine blasphemers being taken by such indulgence, but Gold says a pair were ordered by the wife of Slayer guitar player Kerry King. Everyone, it seems, can find something to like in Gold’s designs. There’s a democracy to crystals, a cheap material that makes regular people feel like celebrities, and celebrities feel like celebrities.
Every piece is crafted by hand, and her supplies are relatively inexpensive. Heart-shaped sunglasses rimmed with little pink flowers cost just $200. Cat- eye sunglasses, named in tribute to Lena Horne, lined with crystals and pearls are $360. A pair with a crystal veil hanging from the top of the frame cost the same. (Comparatively, the cheapest pair of Prada sunglasses available is $385. They come in black, white, or tortoiseshell and, needless to say, they do not shimmer as you walk.)
As whimsical as the work is, Gold is clear that it is still work. On the back wall of her studio is a framed print of the famed 1988 Guerrilla Girls poster, The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist. Among its sarcastic bullet points is “Having an escape from the art world in your 4 freelance jobs” and “Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty.” Gold does not take her success for granted. But nor does she downplay that she deserves it. Grabbing a pair of shorts for Dess Dior’s backup dancers, she shows me her technique for trickier areas on which a machine can’t be used, which is as tedious as you can imagine, involving tiny dabs of glue and crystals applied one at a time. She works like a speed demon, deftly lining rows of crystals up the seam. “I’ve worked really, really hard at this craft, to be the best at it.And this is how I get to show people that I’m the best at it,” she says, before adding a crucial caveat: “I genuinely do think that like the fact that I’m not an asshole, you know, helps.”