Designing for his first fashion show, Jared Gold understood that a unique piece of jewelry could draw a lot of attention to both his work and the wearer.
His eye-catching creations are alive. And they’re cockroaches -- 3-inch-long Madagascar hissing cockroaches bejeweled with Swarovski crystals and attached by a chain to a pin.
The “roach brooches” are free to crawl around on a blouse or jacket, attached to a limiting lead. They hiss when upset and, unless the wearer is careful about the roach’s feeding schedule, they can soil your couture clothing.
A curiosity for sure, but when Gold revived the idea this year for his Salt Lake City boutique even he was a little surprised by the result. He can’t keep them in stock.
“Oh, there they are,” exclaimed Linda Sanders, a fourth-grade teacher, as she gently picked up a roach. Sanders had made the nearly hourlong drive from her home in Orem to see the brooches at Gold’s store.
“I love all animals,” Sanders said, as a roach climbed all over her denim jacket. “The teachers would hate me.”
But within 10 minutes, Sanders was signing a receipt for the purchase of her roach, attached to a chain and pinned to her lapel.
“The kids will love it,” said Sanders, who has a tarantula and two chinchillas in her classroom.
On a busy Friday evening, many of those visiting the Black Chandelier clothing store were there to see the roaches.
LeAnn Kay, of Salt Lake City, saw a story about the brooches on television and came to see them for herself. Gold and his cockroaches also were recently featured on an episode of the reality show “America’s Next Top Model” on the UPN network.
“Initially I was taken aback, and I was appalled,” Kay said. “The more I looked at it, the more interesting the idea became. You know, art for art’s sake. It’s a very intriguing idea.”
Taking the mundane or grotesque and making it pretty or taking something pretty and making it slightly disturbing is what Gold says interests him as a designer.
It takes about an hour to decorate a cockroach. Gold’s head seamstress, Aja Davis, is the studio’s “roach wrangler.”
“We have our secret way that we prep them. They excrete this wax that no adhesives will stick to,” Gold said. “After months of trial and error, we finally figured out how to get jewels to stick to them.”
The jewels and clasp are attached to the roach’s hood, or carapace, a hard shell that covers its head. Gold says his staff is very gentle with the roaches. He doesn’t even like to make them hiss.
The roaches’ hissing is a defense mechanism, a noise they make when they feel threatened. Touched or pushed along unexpectedly, they sound like snakes.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals finds the roach brooches an inappropriate form of human decoration.
“It gives a new, sad meaning to the term ‘fashion victim,’ ” PETA spokesman Michael McGraw said. “Roaches will inherit the Earth, and if it’s between the desperate people who wear them and the roaches, our money’s on the roaches.”
Gold said he hadn’t heard any complaints from animal rights activists. The roaches, which sell for about $40 in the Salt Lake City store or $80 on the Internet, are treated well and sold more as pets than jewelry, he said.
“They’re your friend, and they’re a pet,” Gold said. “And they’re also really beautiful and fascinating.”
Gold uses only male roaches -- females bite -- which he gets from a Los Angeles breeder.
The roaches are fairly hardy and can live as long as four days without food or water, Gold said. He recommends giving them a nice dark place to live when they’re not being worn.