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Erté: A Symphony of Style and Creativity




A Journey into the World of the "Father of Art Deco"


Erté holds a special place in my heart, a beacon of inspiration that illuminated my artistic journey from the earliest days of my college education. As a student delving into the realms of stage and costume design, I stumbled upon Erté's mesmerizing creations, instantly captivated by their timeless elegance and boundless creativity. Little did I know that this encounter would ignite a lifelong admiration for the prolific artist and his unparalleled contributions to the world of design. With each brushstroke and intricately crafted detail, Erté's work spoke to me on a profound level, igniting my own creative spark and shaping the trajectory of my artistic endeavors.


Erté's journey begins with a touch of aristocratic charm—he hailed from a distinguished Russian family, with his father holding the esteemed title of admiral in the Russian fleet. However, Erté had different aspirations, leading him to bid farewell to his birth name Romain de Tirtoff and adopt the more cosmopolitan moniker of Erté (his initials as pronounced in French) upon his arrival in Paris in 1912. This name change wasn't just a matter of preference; it was a strategic move to avoid any familial discomfort, particularly given his family's hopes for him to follow in his father's naval footsteps.


In the early days of his artistic pursuits, Erté encountered a setback that could have dampened his spirits. As recounted by Kassia St. Clair in her insightful article for 1843 magazine, Erté's first employer delivered a disheartening blow, advising him to explore avenues other than drawing. Despite this discouraging start, Erté, demonstrating remarkable resilience, seized control of his artistic destiny by sending his sketches to Paul Poiret, a titan of the fashion industry whose influence rivaled that of Pablo Picasso. Recognizing Erté's talent and potential, Poiret extended a helping hand, providing the young artist with an invaluable opportunity to hone his craft. This mentorship proved to be transformative, propelling Erté into the spotlight as the premier costume designer at the illustrious Folies-Bergère, a renowned Parisian opera house.

In years, Erté's strory evolved into a remarkable journey of artistic growth and achievement. His innate talent and the support of mentors like Poiret, led the way for his ascent to prominence in the world of decorative arts.


Amidst his multifaceted endeavors in the realm of fashion, Erté embarked on several notable projects, including crafting design illustrations and prints for esteemed New York shoe manufacturer Herman Delman, as well as contributing designs for Henri Bendel and B. Altman & Co.


Beyond his groundbreaking contributions to fashion, which encompassed pioneering trends such as unisex clothing, asymmetrical hemlines, and refined professional attire, Erté also left an indelible mark on the world of modern publishing. With the onset of World War I and the subsequent economic downturn in Europe, Erté shifted his focus towards the American market. This strategic pivot led to the establishment of a long-term partnership with Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 1915, where he assumed a pivotal role in shaping the publication's artistic direction. Over the course of an impressive 22-year tenure, Erté lent his creative prowess to the design of more than 240 magazine covers, solidifying his status as a luminary in the fashion world.

Throughout the vibrant decades of the 1920s and 1930s, Erté expanded his creative repertoire to include the realm of theater production. Renowned for his innovative costume designs, Erté's theatrical creations captivated audiences with their extravagant flair. From elaborate plumed headdresses to opulent pearl embellishments and intricately embroidered trains, Erté's visionary designs epitomized the glamour and allure of the stage, leaving an indelible imprint on the world of performing arts.


Erté's vivacious creativity found its ultimate expression in the vibrant world of French theater, where he left an indelible mark through his enchanting costume and set designs. From the iconic stages of the Folies-Bergère in Paris to the dazzling spectacle of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923, Erté's visionary creations transported audiences to realms of unparalleled beauty and fantasy. For a fleeting moment, he even ventured into the realm of Hollywood, lending his artistic flair to several silent films.

What set Erté apart from his contemporaries was not just his boundless imagination but also the meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail evident in his finished designs. His foray into the film industry began with designing sets and costumes for the renowned Hollywood director Louis B. Mayer, notably contributing to the visual splendor of the 1925 epic "Ben Hur." However, Erté's connection with Hollywood proved short-lived. He transitioned to the realm of industrial design, applying his creative genius to the conceptualization of objects and domestic interiors.


By the time of his passing at the age of 97 in 1990, Erté had amassed an astounding legacy. With over 22,000 designs to his name, spanning a career that spanned eight decades, Erté's artistic footprint extended far beyond the fashion and theater. His creative vision touched everything from lighting and furnishings to accessories and jewelry, demonstrating his versatility and enduring influence. As the Art Deco revival swept through the cultural landscape of the 1960s, Erté's work experienced a resurgent appreciation, reaffirming his status as a pioneering force in design history. Even in his later years, Erté continued to push the boundaries of creativity, culminating in his final masterpiece: a collection of 100 new designs for a Glyndebourne opera production in the 1980s. Truly, Erté's legacy lives on as a testament to the enduring power of artistic vision and innovation.


Style and Influences

Erté stands as a pivotal figure in the evolution of Art Deco, a style that swept across the globe during the 1920s. Erté saw Art Deco as a harmonious blend of the sinuous lines of Art Nouveau from the 19th century and the bold geometric shapes of Cubism, Constructivism, and modernity. His creative palette was further enriched by his fascination with Persian miniatures.


A master of his craft, Erté's artistic pursuits transcended traditional boundaries. From costumes and stage sets to jewelry, objet d’art, sculpture, and ceramics, his imagination knew no bounds. What set Erté apart was not just his creative output but also his unique creative process. Unlike many artists who sketch freely before committing to a final design, Erté possessed the remarkable ability to visualize the entirety of his work in his mind's eye, down to the smallest detail, before bringing it to life.


Revered as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, his work continues to captivate audiences and inspire admiration. Today, his masterpieces adorn the collections of prestigious institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Modern, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).


Unfortunately I cannot add any image of Erté's works due to copyright restrictions, but you can browse the museum collections that I mention above and the websites below to enjoy the artworks of the "Father of Art Deco".


See you in the next blog!


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