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BY DESIGN : CHER : ‘I Have Some Sort of Grandiose Feeling That It’s Better Than a Catalogue’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

ecently a new trend came shooting through the mail slot. It was a celebrity catalogue. Cher’s catalogue to be precise. Lying on the hallway floor with the phone bill and the El Pollo Loco circular was a photo of Cher, in all her witchy-vixen glory, on a catalogue called Sanctuary.

She’s hooked herself up with the folks who produce the Sundance book for Robert Redford. Instead of Bob’s trout-infested woodsy stuff, Cher is bringing us her take on fashion and the decorating arts. Anyone need a chain-mail lamp, a dagger letter opener or black clothes with lots of cutouts to show tattoos?

Her specialty is Gothic accessories and lounge-around-the-castle clothes for modern-day vampires. Vampires. Now there’s another trend.

Could she be prescient? we wondered. Many phone calls later, we found her at home and asked her if she was on the forward wave of a new trend or just starting one all on her own.

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Answer: Two years ago nobody knew what Gothic was. People thought I was nuts. I’d try and describe it and they’d say, “Yeah right.” But I chose things I liked, even though they were difficult to find. I’ve become expert on Byzantine, Gothic and Gothic Revival. It’s got great potential. I can see from the orders.

Q: What’s selling?

A: The $225 teak chair, all the faux crocodile storage boxes, the “Astrological Guide to Relationships,” the chalice vase, a wall sconce. We’ve sold out of the handmade ancient sun.

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Q: Could Gothic be a coming trend because you’re behind it?

A: I don’t think it’s me. Who knows about this stuff? Madonna does it a lot better than I do. Madonna is the forefront of the superficial lifestyle. She’s brilliant at cashing in. The truth is, the only artistic bone she has is being a triumph of style over substance.

Q: Um, let’s change the subject. I heard you don’t like having your catalogue called a catalogue.

A: The hard reality is, I know it’s a catalogue. I don’t know, I have some sort of grandiose feeling that it’s better than a catalogue.

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Q: Whatever possessed you to get into this business?

A: I have no fear. I’m an idiot and don’t know my limitations. I feel like I can succeed at anything I like. I like my home and the things in it. That’s why the catalogue. If I could paint or sculpt, I’d move to Bordeaux and never talk to anyone again.

A: How would you rate the work? Is it harder or easier than producing an album?

A: Everything else pales in comparison--childbirth is a day at the beach, divorce is a picnic. It never stops being difficult . The finding and the putting together isn’t tough. Q: How did you begin the project?

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A: I started last January. I ripped apart a Victorian borders book. I found samples of great calligraphy. I ripped apart a Spiegel catalogue and Elle Decor magazine. I ripped and ripped and took scissors to my books until I had what I liked and then I made color copies of my book pages.

I started out with partners, but we parted ways. They were a learned catalogue company. But my partners were a pain in the ass, and we’ve blown each other off.

Q: Why?

A: Everyone said it was wrong--the wrong colors, the wrong things. I fought with everybody. They didn’t want to do the photos on dark backgrounds and sets. I wanted to keep it really romantic and mysterious. I liked the feeling that it is not sunny and bright and out in open. They said that was wrong, and the things I was crazy about--the clothes, the jewelry, the furniture--were wrong.

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I wanted to be in partnership with the back end all in place. Now it isn’t there anymore, and I’m in the completion end of it. I hate this part. My mind doesn’t lean to this area: I don’t care about reorders and storage.

Q: Will there be another one?

A: God willing and the creek don’t rise. The truth is, you only do two books a year. There is a lot of reshuffling of pictures and a new cover with each mailing. Some things aren’t selling. So I don’t think I’ll bring them back. Some photos suck and some don’t, some don’t show off the merchandise. Those are mistakes.

Q: How many people received the first catalogue?

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A: We sent out 330,000 copies, which is nothing for a catalogue run. It was a test. I’m using all my own money and I had to know what kind of response I was going to get before I really stuck my head out there. I have $1 million in stock and I couldn’t afford to drop 10 million books. I needed to know who would be my customer.

If I had done a million of them, I’d be handing them out at concerts at the old actors home.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: People in urban areas. The best customers are the ones that call the 800 number ((800) SANCTUARY).

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Q: Did you buy any mailing lists?

A: Sure. But lists are only one thing. I’ve talked to customers on the phone for hours. Most of them tell me they were looking for something different. My partners told me I wouldn’t have any men customers. But men were ordering the chair, and men like the lamp with seashells.

Q: What sort of things do you have that you consider different?

A: I kind of did a lifestyle catalogue. There’s a meditation page, with real books. That’s one area where we came to blows, but we sell more of that than anything else. It’s esoteric--the “Astrological Guide to Relationships,” the aroma-therapy wheels and the dream decoder--but that’s who I am, and I’m saying if you have problems try these things. They work.

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There is a chair on Page 3. When I first saw it, I didn’t like the finish. So I took it out on the front porch and refinished it. It was beautiful. So I sell it with the refinishing wax.

I enjoy doing things with my hands. When Sonny (Bono) and I were first married, I refinished a lot of furniture.

Q: Does your house look like this catalogue?

A: Yeah, it looks like my house except my house is bizarre even for me. I need to pare down, but I’m not sure in what direction. It’s all really Old World looking, sort of ethnic Gothic.

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Q: What do you have that has lasted through all your different decorating phases?

A: There’s a Moroccan chest that I’ve had since my daughter was a little girl. It’s inlaid with ivory and ebony. There are a couple of huge vases left over from my Egypt-omania period and two big mirrors that are framed with giant snakes biting their own tails. There are two little inlaid egret stools from my Egyptian period too. I wouldn’t give up any of those things.

Q: Are you a catalogue shopper?

A: I buy from Victoria’s Secret. I buy to see if the thing in the picture is really as good as it looks.

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Q: Did you design any of the clothes in your catalogue?

A: Yeah. I call it the signature collection. It’s kind of silly but looks nice on the paper. There’s a robe, sweats and all the stuff that has the logo--G-strings, a racing back T-shirt--the kind of stuff I wear.

Q: So, you’ve got a new catalogue, a new album and a new movie, what’s next?

A: I want to direct a movie.

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