This spring I began a correspondence with the talented Heather Hermann, also known as The Duchess of Deco. We immediately bonded over our love of 1980s design, thrifting, all things Deco, mineral samples, and quirky decor such as terrariums with neon accents. Yet the more I got to know Heather, aka Calliope, the more fascinated I became with her repertoire, from her days as a Vegas showgirl to her experience in the realm of Hollywood costume design. She’s a fearless performer, a visual artist with a truly unique aesthetic, a walking encyclopedia on Deco design through the ages, and an art dealer specializing in the works of Erte. And that’s just the beginning… Intrigued? Read on:
Heather, thank you for taking the time to chat with Mirror80! Your creativity spans a variety of realms, from dance and performance to costume design and painting. Tell us about your artistic background.
My artistic background has developed from many sources over the years. But when one simplifies it down, it all subconsciously arrives at the conclusion that my imagery has been always heavily inspired from the 1980’s. I was born in 1988 and got the best inspirations left of the era due to my older brother. He’s a major tech 80’s geek and was obsessed with video games and the pop culture of the time. I would watch him play Nintendo at a mere age of 2 years old, and I became utterly fascinated with technology and storytelling.
My mother always tried to expose us to creative things that were not the norm nor appreciated in their heyday. I remember seeing The Dark Crystal for the first time and having the beejezus scared out of me. I guess you can say my parents did good by scaring me with the intellectual. I was always watching films and listening to things that so far surpassed my age. I have never really “belonged” in this generation, but I feel I have arrived here with purpose. I’m just a very old soul.
Can you talk about your influences and your creative past?
I was always influenced by cinema at a very young age. If a movie didn’t inspire some emotional feeling or scare the crap out of me then it clearly wasn’t doing its job. I’ve always been consciously aware of my abilities and destiny ever since I was young, and given my long-term photographic memory; I can retain such a vast amount of detail it’s like time warping and reliving it all over again. I remember being pushed in a stroller around the old 1980’s Art Deco-styled Meadows Mall in Vegas at one years old at the Diamonds department store before it was renovated into Dillard’s in 1992, and till this day I can draw out the entire structure and every detail I saw. It flabbergasts my parents how I can remember any of that!
Besides all this, I began dancing at 3 years old and carried it with me my whole life. I trained professionally under the Royal Academy of London graduate program for over nine years and received Highest Honors in all consecutive courses certified by the Queen of England, and I regularly performed professionally with the Kravenko Youth Ballet, participating in various international workshops with some of the best companies and teachers across the world. It was with this that I became involved in training with the original Showgirls of Las Vegas. My teacher was a Bluebell from the Stardust hotel and her daughters were principles in Jubilee and Siegfried and Roy. I still perform as “The Duchess of Deco” for vaudeville events and choreograph Bob Fosse-inspired acts, burlesque, and Deco-futurism ensembles for various venues throughout Las Vegas and internationally.
After retiring from professional companies at 22, I became involved with costume designer Diana Eden, who was looking for an intern for costume illustration for movies, stage and television. She was Bob Mackie’s assistant for many years at Jubilee. Mackie is quite possibly the most illustrious 1980’s stage designer of all time and designed pretty much every showgirl costume from every major show over the course of a few decades. One of his biggest clients was Cher.
I’ve been to a lot of places, met a lot of people and have done many things in my short life at 26. All I can say is I’ve come full circle to this point, gaining the technical knowledge of being a living encyclopedia of knowledge for the preservation of 1920’s/30’s and 1980’s Art Deco. Living through all these experiences and my hands-on training has awarded me a unique opportunity to share these things with the world.
Tell us about your favorite Art Deco motifs…
Favorite Deco motifs. A very broad spectrum to cross! For me personally, I archive anything I find in books and online that features the classic design complexity of Art Deco from it’s true generation, and I also compile hundreds if not thousands of images of any inspiring art I come across (especially during the 80’s) or screenshot scenes from movies with design elements on my computer for further reference. Thank goodness for Pinterest! I think my top inspirations for motifs would be Erte, Miklos, Lempeckia, J.C Leyendecker and Ruhlmann. I draw inspiration from the most random things and mash them all together!
As an art dealer, you’re in charge of the largest estate collection of Erte in the world. Can you share a bit about Erte’s contribution to Art Deco design in the ’20s/’30s, and then again in the late ’70s and ’80s?
Erte was a master of his craft. Private, calculated, structured, and detailed. Definitely was a quiet man of few words, but when he spoke, he spoke deeply. With clever design principles and timeless fashion sense, he preserved the deepest roots of our civilization aesthetically by crossing it over with the concepts of futurism. He was fascinated by the unknown, and was obsessive with Ancient Egyptian, Indian, Japanese, Roman, Sumerian, Greek, and Mesopotamian culture. Taking the best design motifs of the era, he simplified them in dual ways. One that was timeless but also completely functional and clever. He completely changed how people revered fashion during his prime, and it spread like wildfire across Europe, bleeding into America.
Erte INVENTED Art Deco. I cannot stress this enough. It all started with fashion designs, adverts for early department stores, and then Harper’s Bazar covers. Because of this man, we have an entire generation driven by a genre-specific aesthetic that applies to the dystopian mentality. Everything was beautiful, well designed, and stayed true to its genre rules. There are different “types” of Art Deco, but he inspired them all.
During his second revival during the 1980’s, his bronzes, serigraphs and originals became so popular the art market completely blew up and became Erte obsessed. David Rogath brought him out of his hiatus from the art world and reintroduced him to the masses. He was so popular they couldn’t keep up with the production of his work, and being in his eighties at the time, he became one of the wealthiest artists to ever grace the earth overnight. He was a sensation. Barbra Streisand and Cher are his biggest collectors.
Erte’s work during this time sent the visual world into a craze, and without this, we wouldn’t have the Art Deco revival of the 1980’s at all. Miami and Los Angeles are perfect places where this can be evidenced. It even goes as far as inspiration for movies such as Blade Runner and Brazil. Most of the costumes and art direction are directly derived from Erte’s accomplishment to envision the future with the classic Deco flare taken to an extreme. Erte was a truly one-of-a-kind marvelous man and sadly passed away at 97 in 1990 due to health complications. I now curate and deal his estate, doing my best to preserve the legacy of his work and distribute what’s left to major collectors all over the world.
Are there any other ’20s/’30s artists, designers or motifs that would be particularly interesting to ’80s enthusiasts?
Tamara De Lempicka, Gustave Miklos, Jerry Schurr, Maurice Guiraud-Rivière, Ruhlmann, Kudos, Ferdinand Preiss, J.C Leyendecker, Normann Bel Geddes, Haeger, Patrick Nagel and David Lee.
Your paintings are so detailed and visually stunning. Who and what are your influences for these works of art?
To answer this question properly I would have to write a book, honestly! But to keep it frank, it all comes down to music, vision, feeling, color, composition, inspiration from hundreds of resources, and what type of materials I’m using. My two “bible” artists are always Erte and Amano. Needless to say, I just put on some music and whatever happens, happens! Sometimes I don’t even think about what I’m doing, it just develops as it comes along and evolves.
Let’s talk costume design! Not only do you have experience with design work in Hollywood, you build your own costumes. Can you talk about your creative process?
My creative process for costuming is really a trial and effort progression. I always start out with concept design sketches and drawings before moving on to the functionality of the piece itself. How is it going to lie on the body? What am I trying to explain from it? What emotions does it invoke? Just like Erte I try to heavily concentrate on the intense motif work and detailing before finalizing the product. I treat every design as if I am designing a character from a movie and take care to establish a personality for it. I will collaborate with a seamstress while collecting many different inspirations and materials before the final stages are complete.
When dealing with movies, I work closely with the art director (if I’m not already hired for that position), and sit down to figure out the world, scenery, colors, and mood. It becomes a process of elimination and constant refinement that is absolutely maddening to proportional levels. You want the costume to tell a story as well as breathe life into the actor from it. Clothes completely define how the final product of a movie will turn out and the same thing goes for stage acting. You could have the most brilliant actor performing, but if their wardrobe looks terrible…it completely redefines what they’re doing and not in the best way. My personal costumes always pertain to my art. I guess you can say I am cosplaying in the same way Erte did back in the 1920’s by modeling his own designs to define his brand.
Your photo shoots are fabulous. You are a living work of art! Do you come up with the concepts and costumes for these shoots?
For all of my photo shoots, I personally complete all the concepts, costumes and editing processes. I have a small creative team that I work with that’s always developing new styles and a techniques/better equipment to capture conceptual scenes centered around my branding image and art. I always try to go for movie-quality still shots that are reminiscent of a Terry Gilliam movie that was never made. Hah!
Since you’re as connected to the ’20s and ’30s as you are to the ’80s, feel free to venture outside of the Decade of Decadence for these next questions! Tell us about your…
Brazil, Blade Runner, The Dark Crystal, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Black Cauldron, Rock and Rule, The Never Ending Story, Legend, Willow, Cocoon, Krull, Batteries Not Included, Flight of the Navigator, The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, The Matrix, Where Brother Art Thou, The Prestige, The Illusionist
favorite interior design motifs:
Art Deco, Modernism, Scandinavian, 1940’s Kitsch, and Industrial
Electric Light Orchestra, Genesis, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Daft Punk, Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, Italio Disco, Boney M, Weird Al, Flight of the Conchords, Blind Guardian, Department of Eagles, Chromeo
favorite visual artists:
Erte, Yoshitaka Amano, Jerry Schurr, J.C Leyendecker, Tayayuki Takeya, Murakami, Sorayama, Vargas
favorite television shows:
Breaking Bad, Are You Being Served? The IT Crowd, Black Books, Kitchen Nightmares, Keeping Up Appearance’s, Little Britain, Spy, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Code Monkeys, Sailor Moon, Animaniacs, Batman The Animated Series, Bridezillas (my vice, haha)
favorite video games:
Legend of Zelda: A Link in Time, Legend of Zelda 64, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy I-VIII, Final Fantasy 11 and14, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, Full Throttle, The Dig, Threads of Fate, Super Mario, Chrono Cross
You are living a truly creative life. How have you managed to balance earning a living with having time to enjoy your creative passions? Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
Lots of patience. If I were to say it’s easy I certainly would be lying. I just make sure to balance out my schedule to whatever is demanding me at that particular time and make sure to do it as effectively and professionally as possible. I’m used to a very hectic stressful lifestyle, but I’ve got to put on the breaks and recharge every once in awhile. For me, I find comfort in my apartment. I’ve taken a lot of time and pride into my collecting to make a very comforting atmosphere, and I own three cuddly bunny rabbits. Kaiser my lionhead along with my two Holland lops Rolle and Neon. They give me simple joys everyday.
I am extremely introverted despite being required to be extroverted. Surely takes a lot of energy out of me! I try to do regenerative things and stay away from toxic people and environments. I’m fairly simple at my deepest core and tend to be shy and quiet. I find solace in playing video games to let my mind take a break from working so much.
Currently I am looking forward to the revamping of my website, ongoing performance venues and organizing some art shows. I also will have some wardrobe that will be debuting with a very prestigious magic venue called “The Illusionists” touring worldwide and will be put on Broadway. Things come up suddenly and randomly for me, so I just never know what curveball is coming next!
Heather, we can’t thank you enough for chatting with us today and sharing your talents, as well as your love of Art Deco and 1980s design.
You can follow The Duchess of Deco on Facebook, and stay tuned for a home tour of Heather Hermann’s flawless Deco-style apartment this Friday!