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Wild, styled and gleefully cruelty-free

A new breed of trophy heads is becoming fashionable wall decor, especially for urban hipsters. Consider it alterna-taxidermy.

January 18, 2007|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

INTERIOR designer A J Bernard bagged his first one on Melrose Avenue. It was an antelope head made from paper and wire, which Bernard placed over the fireplace in a 1920s Spanish home.

"It's like a fake fur coat," he says. "It allows you to have this gorgeous sculptural form without any of the guilt and grossness of having a dead animal on the wall."

Once a symbol of both upper crust and blue-collar machismo, the cruelty-free animal head has become a contemporary decorative flourish made in wood, porcelain or plastic. Ceramic ram's heads sell for less than $40 at Z Gallerie, while the Trophee Lamp, a fluorescent-illuminated epoxy resin deer bust created by a lighting firm in Beirut, sells for a princely $7,600. One version of the mounted deer is made of interlocking pieces of plywood for a deconstructed, abstract look.

After witnessing a stampede of trophy heads at European exhibitions, Northern California-based Roost last spring unleashed its Noble Stag, hand-carved from lightweight basswood in China. Based on the success of the piece, the design firm recently added seven more forest creatures.

"I suspect that anybody that buys these has no desire to hunt a deer," says product designer Aaron Silverstein. "They are elegant and slightly stylized, enough removed from reality that they don't freak anyone out."

Urban residents seem particularly smitten, equating deer heads with the simplicity of green living, the luxury of ski lodges and the rustic coziness of country cabins.

In Los Angeles, a city of big name hunters and trophy spouses, it's hardly surprising that deer heads have become a fashionable form of wall decor. The new breed of antlered beasts -- as fake as so many other racks in this town -- are devoid of Bates Motel creepiness. They are tongue-in-cheek, if not downright cute.

"If you were to hang a real deer head, you'd have the remnants of a dead animal," says Tristan Zimmermann, a founding member of the design collective Science and Sons. The Toronto-based company produces a line called Plastidermy that features a stag head made from precision-cut sheets of acrylic. Hanging a likeness of a dead animal made from an inorganic material, he says, "adds an obvious element of irony when the medium and the message are so fundamentally opposed."

Zimmermann says the popularity of trophy heads is based on a generational wistfulness for "the fairy tale forest of our youth." In an era in which the once-primal pursuits of hunting and gathering have been reduced to shopping and decorating, a plastic deer head is a symbol of politically correct consumerism.

"Frankly, I am astounded it has lasted so long," he says of the deer-and-antler look. His firm has added a plastic swan and hare to the collection.

The expanding menagerie of nature-inspired decor also includes feather-covered horses at Suzan Fellman in Los Angeles and hand-glazed blue ceramic bulls from DF Casa of Mexico City.

"The appeal of real trophy heads is something that connotes a link to stately living, good breeding, wealth and status," says DF Casa partner Tony Moxham. "The colors that we use, including pink for a deer, remove those darker connotations for an audience that might be skeeved by taxidermy."

This spring DF Casa will produce a white bull with taxicab-yellow horns and a horse head in lemon yellow and flame orange.

For younger people and those who live in smaller places, Moxham says, the trophy head is an effortless way of buying a little history and creating instant grandeur. "But," he adds, "I'd also like to think that ours give a feeling of friendly fantasy."

home@latimes.com

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Materials capture that natural look

Faux animals busts are turning heads with a variety of materials:

Acrylic deer ($500), hare ($125) and swan ($500) from Science and Sons available from A + R in Silver Lake, (323) 913-9558, www.aplusrstore.com.

Plywood moose, deer and roe deer by Vlaemsch are $96 to $310 at Reform School in Silver Lake, (323) 906-8660, www.reformschoolrules.com.

Translucent Trophee Lamp by CAI Lighting is $7,600 from www.unicahome.com.

Ceramic ram's head is $39 at Z Gallerie, www.zgallerie.com.

Resin miniature deer head is $45 at New Stone Age in Los Angeles, (323) 658-5969, www.newstoneagela.com.

Hand-carved wood animal heads by Roost are $400 to $600 at Lawson-Fenning, with L.A. locations on Beverly Boulevard, (323) 934-0048, and Silver Lake Boulevard, (323) 660-1500.

Ceramic blue Toro (bull) and pink Venado (deer) by DF Casa are $400 each. They're sold at Show in Los Angeles, (323) 644-1960.

-- David A. Keeps

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