Interview with Maria & Oana Heller from Maria Heller Design

Hello ghouls ! 
Today I have two special ''guests'' on my blog: Maria & Oana Heller from Maria Heller Design. I have known Oana for about 5 years, we are from the same city and used to work for a few months at the same place. We kept in touch over the years trough social media.
Just recently me and my boyfriend made them a visit and had the chance to met Maria in person too. They are both such talented and lovely girls and I really wanted to do this interview so that more people find out about them and their work :D
If you follow my facebook page or instagram you have already seen the collaborations that I did with them on a few designs.
But they are so much more that what you see, just keep reading ;)

Magda Corvinus - Hey girls, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! Can you tell us a little bit about your work? I know you are involved in several artistic projects.

Maria - Hello. I'm glad you invited us! Yes, our work is all over the map! Most people are only aware of our clothing designs, other only of our books. I guess it can be confusing because we work in many fields which for others may seem unrelated, but for us it's all part of a bigger picture. We both started off as painters, we were in an art high school together, were we actually met. We studied drawing, painting, and art history both in high school and at the University. But we also started writing together at the beginning of high school, in 2008 - then we started working on our first novels. It took us many years to finish writing our novels... We took our time, we weren't in a hurry, we didn't think we would publish, we just wanted the books to be as good as we knew they deserve to be, for the sake of our characters. 
Oana published her novel, First There Was The Lie, in 2014, just before graduating University, and I published mine, Beneath These Hands, in 2015. We also published our first comic book, Interval of Trust, together with my novel. These three titles are part of a series called Convergent. Convergent is a series of contemporary, psychological, realistic stories. Oana's novel focuses on a gay relationship, while my novel and the comic book focuses on a rather difficult subject: abuse. The series is still ongoing, but we took a break from it because we're currently working on another project called Solstice. Solstice is a historical fiction web-comic which we're preparing to launch soon. The story takes place on a fictional land of our creation and we're really, really excited to be able to invent a whole culture from scratch, with their own religion, habits and customs. Okay, so these are our artistic projects.

We're both artists, we're both writers, and writing plus art combined equals... well, comics. So these kind of make sense together. But we also have an Etsy shop selling fantasy and historically inspired clothing. I started making renaissance dresses in 2015, after publishing my novel. I did it just for myself, because I liked it. I was obsessed with this historical drama show The Borgias, and their gorgeous gowns, so I decided to try making a renaissance dress of my own, even though I had never sewn a thing before in my life, not even a button. I made the pattern and everything from scratch, and I sewed everything by hand. I was myself surprised by how good my first dress came out and, excited, I decided to make another. That's how it started. Oana wasn't involved at all at first. I made the first 4 renaissance dresses on my own, hand sewing them 100%. But after setting up our Etsy shop and getting a few orders she started helping me with various tasks, like hemming the skirts or sewing some things at the sewing machine, so to get things done a bit faster. In time though, she got more involved and now she's making items on her own. I'm still the mastermind, so to speak, I'm the one making the patterns and drafting everything, and she's sewing. My renaissance costumes are still almost entirely hand sewn by me. Since the Italian renaissance historical costumes I've been making were a pretty niche thing, we decided to start making some things that are more wearable, like capes. We both really got into it and we're looking forward on expanding our little handmade business and adding more varied creations to our online shop.

Corvinus - I just love the fact that you see capes as ''wearable'' :D
Can you describe yourself in 5 words? ( I know it’s a cliché questions but I find it interesting :P)

Maria  – Let's see... Driven, Workaholic, Creative, Idealist, Loner.
Oana  – Obsessive, Procrastinator, Ingenious, Curious, Restless

Corvinus- How did you start creating clothes? Was it something you were always interested in or was it a bit more spontaneous?

Maria – Well, like I said, it was totally spontaneous. I just finished my novel, I had just published it, and I was kind of lost... kind of confused. I had a moment of "now what?". It was actually kind of depressing. I've been working 7 years on my novel and when it was finally finished I didn't feel great, or proud, or relieved... I felt sad, like I lost the most valuable and precious thing in my life... Like the most meaningful thing I ever did just ended. I wanted to make something completely different from what I've been doing all my life. I have never sewn before so I thought I'd give it a try, just out of curiosity. Turned out I was good at it. Maybe having an art background helped me with the pattern making and with envisioning the final form – but still, it was a completely new field for me.

Oana- I on the other hand always had an interest in making clothes. I grew up in a very small and boring town where you cold never find anything interesting let alone goth or alternative and ordering online was out of the question for most of my life because I never had any money. Even when I started attending high-school in Cluj Napoca I couldn't find what I was looking for so most of the times I was asking my mom to make me stuff. My mother has been all her life a seamstress and she is making wedding dresses for a wedding salon here in Turda so she knows how to make basically anything but she really does not like gothic and alternative attire so I had to beg and beg and beg… I had a few attempts at making clothes on my own but I am an awful pattern maker – most of the times if I try making something from scratch I mess it up. But I can finish up items quite beautifully and I am learning more and more everyday.

Corvinus- I know you are a history buff and you get your inspiration from history not only for your designs but also your writing, I’m curious to know what is your favorite period and why?

Maria – Oh, I couldn't choose one favorite period in regards to everything! I guess I could choose one favorite period for fashion, and for that I would choose the Victorian era – even though I haven't made any Victorian costumes myself yet, but I do have it in plan. I like Victorian fashion because of the extreme shapes the costumes had: the cage skirts and exaggerated bustles, the corsets and hats, they just look absolutely gorgeous and so intricate. I think, besides the Elizabethan costumes, the Victorian ones would be one of the most complicated to make. I would like, in the future, to make at least one costume from every period in history that I like.

 Oana – I have a huge obsession with crinolines and hoop skirts and I just love the civil war era dresses. And also baroque tops (Marie Antoinette kind) are a dream of mine. As a teenager I loved Lolita a lot and I still admire it fore the historical influences it has but I couldn't just order a full Lolita outfit and wear it… I'd have to put my own personal twist to all the ruffles and prints and volumes… I also like corsets and I dream of making more of them. I am quite excited to make some costumes for Solstice – Burgundian Gowns of the 1400.  (smiley face)

Corvinus-I also love the Victorian era, can't wait to see what you come up with :D
You two know each other for quite some time, how did you meet and what keeps you living and working together?

Maria – That's a long story! :)) We met in the first year of high school. We didn't talk much in that first year. I wasn't interested in talking to my classmates. I didn't even bother to remember their names. I was goth at the time, in love with Anne Rice's books, and always hanging out with a group of goth / alternative / new wave people from other classes. Oana was kind of anime at the time... like the kind of anime fan who's always dressed in pink – which I found laughable at the time. I heard some gossip that she was writing a psychological novel, and that made me curious, because I already had the idea for my novel, Beneath These Hands, in my head, but I wasn't writing it. We eventually started talking about books, I landed her a few books and then she showed me some fragments of her own writing. I was impressed. We started hanging out together and I told her about the story I had in my mind and the characters in it. I decided to start writing only to be able to show her the story. Soon enough we were together all the time. We always sat in class together, and during all the breaks, and after class we always went to the same teahouse every day, where we talked for hours, shared the texts we wrote and even wrote together in silence, each to our own stories. We were also "playing" or characters, or that's how we decided to call it. We would role-play our characters all the time: I would pick one of my characters and she would pick one of hers and we would put them together in the same imaginary time and space and let them interact freely with each other, much like kinds do when they're playing they're some cartoon character. We didn't have any script, or plan for what was to happen, we would just try to portray our characters as well as we could, talking like them, reacting like them, and basically trying to think and behave exactly like them, to be them. We did this for hours every day, at school, during classes, during breaks, after school, all the time. We were always embodying our characters. This made the stories of our separate novels entangle irreversibly, and that's how we decided to write a series together. Then two of our characters fell in love, and then… after a pretty long time we realized that we were actually in love as well. It took us a while to figure that out, but our characters brought us together. We still have those characters that we used to play in high school, and we always bring them in all our stories, reinventing them. We consider ourselves married, that's why we both took the name Heller, and published out books under this pseudonym. We actually had a little wedding in the forest back in 2011. We live together since 2012 and all we do, we do together. There, I kept it as short as I could!

Corvinus- What are some of your favorite fabrics and colors that you like to work with?

Maria – I like working with brocade, and I actually prefer working with brocade intended for furniture. I've used it in several of my dresses and it sits and looks great. Also, you can find much more intricate, colorful and rich designs and pattern on this type of brocade, whereas the brocade intended for clothing is always much more dull, and thinner also. I like deep colors. I don't like pastels and faded tones. I like deep red and forest green.

Oana – Of course that Maria as a designer loves brocade, but I – the one that has to sew the "boring parts" – hate brocade. It is gorgeous when you look at it but it frays a lot and when is pleated or put in two it is so thick that it jams the sewing machine.  I love cotton sateen – usually people make bed sheets out of it – and non stretch velvet, they have a soft feel on the skin and they are quite easy to work with. I have no problem with working with any and all of the colors. I love challenges.  

 Corvinus- What is the process of creating a design and how long does it take to get from an idea to a finished product?

 Maria – Even though I'm an artist with BA in painting I never make sketches of my designs! I just do them directly from my imagination. I see the dress in my mind and start making the patterns directly. I couldn't explain how I make the patterns, because I never studied pattern making, or dress making, or design, or sewing… or anything like that. So my approach is probably not "how it's done". I like figuring things out on my own, searching for solutions myself and picking my brain about any issues, rather than just give a Google search and pick the first solution that pops up. I see the dress in my mind as a finished garment, and I can unfold the dress and take it apart piece by piece in my mind to see its components. And then I just draw the pieces and that's the pattern. After I draw the shapes it's time to measure and do all the math. It takes a lot of math and geometry to make patterns – but I guess I just do it instinctively. After making the patterns I draft the all fabric in one sitting. I draw and cut all the pieces and then store them until I'm done sewing everything together. The pattern making and drafting are the complicated parts, but sewing takes the longest. From start to finish it takes me 5-6 weeks to make a new dress. I usually assign Oana to do the easy, boring parts, like sewing at the sewing machine. She doesn't complain. She actually avoids pattern making and drafting because she doesn't want the responsibility and the chance of screwing up. I don't mind screwing up.

Oana – I hate the fact that Maria never makes sketches and I tell this to her every time when we start working on something new. I always make sketches and then I show them to her, and if she loves them we go on making the patters. I need a sketch to visualize the end product and if we don't have one I don't understand what she is talking about, we get confused and we quarrel.  

Corvinus- Do you do custom pieces? I know you do custom sizes in your dresses but if someone comes with an interesting idea that you never tried before, are you willing to make it happen?

Maria – Yes, sure. I would actually love that! On Etsy there's an option to ask for a custom design, and I have that option in my shop. I did a custom top for a client who wanted me to make just the top of my Renaissance Burgundy Dress – which you wore too. I also just received a custom order for a black wedding dress, based on the design of the Renaissance Burgundy Dress, and I'm very excited to do it! I'd like to make a brand new design on request as well.

Corvinus-  That wedding dress sounds awesome hahaha!
Do you have a favorite clothing designer? What about a favorite artist in general?

Maria – Uhm… does it sound arrogant if I say no? I never intended to be a fashion designer and I certainly don't consider myself one. If anything, I consider myself a writer and artist, who also has an Etsy shop doing handmade dresses. I'm not very familiar with the fashion world and fashion industry, and I don't think that's very close to what I do… Maybe a closer field would be a costume designer for historical dramas. I like the costumes from The Borgias, but I don't know the designer by name… However, the is someone I really admire in the costume making field and her name is AngelaClayton. She's younger than me and much more talented and prolific in dress making. I discovered her on Tumblr a few years ago and I  just adore all her creations. She's also self taught, like me. For a favorite artist in general… I have a few: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Godward, John William Waterhouse, Alphonse Mucha, Edmund Blair Leighton, Sir Frederic Leighton, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Takato Yamamoto… and many others.

Corvinus- What’s it like to be an artist in a country like Romania? Do you find that people from other countries are more interested in your work than those from your local scene?

Maria – Yes. I feel like I'm talking to the walls here. Our novels and comic (written in Romanian) didn't sell and no matter the topic of our stories I just don't seem to be able to get anyone to care. We lived in Germany for a year while studying with Erasmus and the people there were a million times more interested, responsive, involved and exited about our work. There certainly is a difference in attitude. Also, since we translated the comic Interval of Trust to English, we got much more feedback, this is why we decided to write Solstice directly in English.

Oana – In Romania everyone is so uptight and unfriendly. You can’t even ask people questions without getting stared down. I asked once a fashion design student where did he get a specific fabric from and he glared at me like I broke into his home and stole his fridge. Everybody is secretive and afraid and they keep their tools of trade and their know-how to themselves. Everybody is afraid that they are going to get ripped off so they are suspicious of everybody else and distant. I speak of experience. So is with the most  painters, graphic designers and fashion designers that I've met. Also, the artists only care about themselves or their closest friends. Even if they absolutely  love your work, they would rather jump off a bridge than like your stuff on Facebook or say something nice when you meet in public. And if they hate it, they will bully you. This is the experience I had studying & years of art at the art high school and University of Arts in Cluj Napoca. People are jealous of other's success.  I try to be nice and kind whenever I can but some bullies deserve a taste of their own medicine.    

Corvinus- What are your future plans? And what are you hoping to achieve with your work?

Maria – We're hoping to get our Etsy shop running and be able to earn some money through it, because all of our other projects don't bring us any money at the moment. We had a few sporadic orders on Etsy, but I'd like to work on it and our products so that it would become a more reliable source of income. In the meantime, we're working on Solstice. We've been researching for it for almost a year now, and we still have a lot of research left to do. Since we're doing a webcomic, and not a novel, we need to know a lot of details, because you can ignore the background, interiors, architecture and fashion in writing if you want, but you can't really do that in art… because everything is visual, and since I'm a perfectionist, I want everything to be historically accurate. I also have a lot of research to do for the fictional islands we invented: where is that island placed on the map, what's the climate, the fauna and flora, what foods they can harvest there, etc. I poured all my knowledge into creating their culture, history, habits, religion, myths and legends, and those are the areas I'm pretty good at, but there's also geography, botany, astronomy, mathematics, language, government system, laws, and other areas to cover, and I'm not… at all knowledgeable in those fields. So I'll need help from some people who know more about those fields, but I genuinely have no idea where to find them… But I can't wait to launch The Book of Gods, which is like an introduction to Solstice. It's a webcomic depicting the creation of the world, the creation of humans, and extending to various myths and legends which define the religion of the people living on the Crescent Isles, where Solstice takes place. I already started drawing it and we're going to start posting it pretty soon on our Patreon page, and also on Tapastic or / and on Webtoons. As for Convergent, we're hoping we will be able to translate our novels to English one day too, and maybe continue the series in English.

Oana – I am focusing most of my attention on Etsy right now. I want to make a couple more designs of capes and then some tops, all of them having this kind of renaissance-historical look to them. Also I want to add more items to the shop, cheaper items, around 50 euro and below,  that are ready to ship, in the hopes of having a steadier flow of orders and a less sporadic income.   

Corvinus- I'm actually really curious about Solstice, I think it's very interesting :D
Where can people find you? (links)

Corvinus – Thank you for answering and thank you for letting me get a bit involved with the photography, I really enjoyed shooting and modeling your pieces and hope to do more in the future. Is there anything else you want to add?

M – No, cause I should really get back to work, lol. Thank you very much for having us! And we're surely going to collaborate some more in the future.

Video of me with the Burgundy dress:

Video of me and some of the capes:

BONUS: Cats :D :