French American beauty blogger Max / Maxime Savage had a large online following and a popular drag persona, Chantal Cocorico. Personal tragedies and strange, toxic trends in the industry had their transformative effects… but now the sexy, stylish Heliø is a true phoenix risen.
Thotyssey: Hello Heliø! Thanks for chatting with us today!
Heliø: Bonjour! And merci for having me.
It’s less then a week until Halloween… are you excited at all?
Hell yes! I used to boycott it, seeing how I dress up all year long. But in these hard times, I am into any excuse to celebrate together.
After a long and ongoing lockdown, the city is now reopening bit by bit! Have you been to any venues recently, or are you waiting for things to open up more?
I’ve been mostly hibernating, and staring at birds and squirrels outside my window. But I try my best to go and support local artists when events come up! I’ve been really inspired by digital drag; I think it’s really fantastic to see a new avenue for creativity. I hope this survives the pandemic, and we get both types of entertainment when life is normal again. Well, If that ever happens.
I hear all of that! So before we talk about your own programming, let’s review your origin story! You’re from Eastern France!
Yes, I grew up near Lyon, with an English dad. As critical as I am of France and its suffocating atmosphere (I did leave the country when I was 19), it is a great place to grow up in. My family is also super progressive, and I was fed alternative and subversive art from birth… so I can’t complain. That being said, it was all very hetero-normative culture. I’ve spent a few years breaking free of that, which is why New York is so precious.
When we spoke to Nicky Doll, she said that there wasn’t much going on with French drag until fairly recently. You were young when you left, but did you observe queer nightlife there at all when you were there?
I first went out at 16 to Club UC in Lyon (which still exists! I recently went back with our local treasure Hannah Lou; we had a fabulous time), which is your basic gay bar with mediocre drinks and nondescript techno. There never was a very inspiring alternative scene. But I have fond memories of my baby gay years. I was always a gender fluid soul, but I didn’t know it then… so I was a lesbian by default. Like Nicky said, there was no drag; it was just twinks, bears or discreet gays. Now drag has become so popular, which is great I think. France is a prisoner of its heritage; people are stiff and judgmental. It all needs a good shakeup.
It’s interesting… we have this notion here in the US of Gay Paree, where anything goes and everyone is free-spirited.
Hell nah! Well, not exactly. That’s what I like so much about experiencing both cultures. America is certainly much more puritan, but France is restrictive in different ways. Here (well at least in New York), there’s a sense that people will cheer you on if you’re strong enough to make it. In Paris, it’s like the more successful you are, the more people will criticize and judge. We have issues.
When did your interest in makeup begin?
When I first discovered my mom’s “Guerlain meteorites” powder – it was a forbidden fascination. As a teen I would wear nail polish and eyeliner, but I never allowed my true self to exist. Again, the kids don’t realize how far we’ve come with gender expression these days. I am in awe.
I’d gotten serious about makeup three years ago. I started a YouTube channel, Savage Beauty. I love all aspects of it: perfect, unclockable base for day wear, glam or editorial wear, or full drag. I do it all. I’ve also taught myself a lot about skincare and beauty treatments, and have a sizeable following here in New York. I feel very lucky to be able to help my trans sisters of color who don’t have access to a lot of those things. It’s important to me to give back in that way. Especially in this political climate.
When you see someone for the first time, do you immediately have ideas about what products would work for them as far as their age, coloring, personality, etc… or would you have to play around?
Both. I can tell a lot initially, but it’s important to build a relationship with your clients and educate them. I have a holistic approach to beauty. That’s what inspired the name of my business (besides my last name being Savage). I think there’s beauty in everything, so we should take care of ourselves in many ways. I always let people know what I think would work for them; I don’t try and sell them a treatment or a product. And I always tell my friends to message me and pick my brains with any question they might have–I love that shit! Plus, if I kept it all to myself, I’d just be vain and sad. Sharing it makes it so much more meaningful.
The world of beauty blogging has become an essential outlet for so many young queer lives… but the biz is often fraught with scandal, drama and bad behavior.
I find it really off-putting, which is why I had to step back. I think it’s very easy to get caught up and chase the wrong things–the bigger the audience, the less genuine people get. It just sets a really awful example. There is such a huge opportunity to inspire people, but I really think there is a reckoning happening–I hope so, at least. Everything is so backwards these days, it’s hard to know where things are headed. I hope I can do my part to show a heartfelt, irreverent and inspiring example for all.
So, Heliø is your current drag alter ego… what’s her story?
She was born a few months ago. The last two years of my life have been transformative, to say the least. I lost my mom to cancer, my marriage disintegrated during the pandemic… I felt it was time to channel all my pain into a beacon of queerness and hope. I chose “Heliø” after the Greek word for the sun. The letter “Ø” represents the scar on my heart–it honors my mom, my past self, my masculine and feminine sides. I’ll never be the same, and that’s okay. There’s a lot I have to show the world.
That’s very inspiring! Do you have any particular aesthetics or performing style that you think are very “you?”
Well, I had been around the scene for four years as my previous incarnation, Chantal Cocorico. But Heliø is a further exploration of a high glam, sexually charged, sophisticated aesthetic. She’s androgynous and mystical. I pride myself on my musical taste and visual innuendos. My audience always leaves perplexed and aroused.
Yes! I am so thrilled and honored to be part of such a great cast. I am joining A-list Brooklyn artists for a socially distanced extravaganza. The night will be packed with performances. I’ll be presenting two brand new numbers under the moonlight. Expect some seriously spookysensual moves.
Have a great show! Anything else that needs to be said?
I hope that everybody who reads this has cast their votes for the elections, are supporting their local drag scene… and don’t forget that Black Trans Lives Matter.
All the above! And to conclude: who should win Drag Race: France, if that existed?
Moi, of course! I have the heart, the looks and the C.U.N.T! Vote Heliø!