Jared Tate Johnson makes body harnesses, which puts him somewhere between a fashion designer and a construction worker. He solders and welds the massive necklaces out of sterling silver. They wrap around torsos, necks, sometimes even foreheads.
“I sell to everyone from brain surgeons to mothers of four to runway models,” he says. “You have to think of these as gowns.”
Yet the jewelry has a tendency to disappear.
Under a consignment contract, Johnson placed nine body harnesses with a clothing store in exchange for a cut on anything that sold. But the owner reported that all the necklaces had gone missing. Another store told him a thief had stolen half the jewelry. The other half, they said, were in the store manager's ex-boyfriend's closet.
He suspects the real reason his pieces go missing is that stores are selling them but are too cheap to pay up. (The harnesses sell for as much as $1,000.)
Fed up with getting burned, Johnson hopes to turn his home into a sanctuary for other freelance artists. Last year, he invested $20,000 to renovate a warehouse in the Fashion District. The space, an artists collective, now serves as his home and business. Both the jewelry and the home are marketed under the brand name Dear Raymer.
Johnson's roommates, artists he has hand-picked, pay him a fixed rent. Instead of a living room, the house has a photo studio. Johnson rents it to people who need a place to shoot. He also gets work directing photographs.
“I figure out the aesthetic, the vibe, how we're going to shoot it,” he says. He points to a photograph in his portfolio. “I found this guy with alopecia. He's hairless. I found a 98-pound girl I could use as an accessory on his body.”
Companies book Dear Raymer as a package deal; he serves as creative director, finding the photographer (his roommate), the venue (usually his home), a makeup artist and the model. Everyone gets paid, with Johnson acting as a manager of sorts.
He can be tough: He recently asked half of his roommates to move out because he felt they weren't putting enough effort into their art careers.
Johnson, 26, grew up in Kansas and received a scholarship to the for-profit Collins College school of design in Arizona. He supported himself there working as a creative director for clothing boutiques.
Now, he's especially excited about a Dear Raymer editorial shoot he directed, published in the current issue of L.A. Canvas magazine.
As for his body harnesses, Johnson is done with consignment contracts but still sells custom harnesses directly to clients. “It's completely built for them, for their bodies.”
He estimates he's sold 1,000 pieces in the past five years.