Fashionable artist

How Art Shapes Our Life

Sal MaccaroneAugust 23, 2012 

Soon after the turn of the 20th century, every field of art seemed to be in flux. During this time there were several artists whose work would serve to influence, and thereby change, the direction that art would take.

Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), simply known to the world as Erté, was one of these multi-faceted individuals. Although he was born in Russia, the name Erté was actually derived from the French pronunciation of his initials, RT. Ultimately he was to have a profound affect upon the realms of illustration and fashion, as well as set and costume design for theater and film.

Starting out in Paris as a young designer, Erté apprenticed under the master fashion designer of the time, Paul Poiret (1879-1944). In 1915, at the age of 23, he made his debut in America as a fashion illustrator for the magazine, Harper's Bazaar. His services were in such demand at the time, it is said that he actually flipped a coin to decide whether he would go to work for Harper's or Vogue. During that first year he was charged with the design of the magazines' January cover and the rest is history. From there he would go on to design another 200 magazine covers and enjoy a 22 year career as the premiere fashion designer of the Art Deco movement. He has even been called the father of that movement.

During the economic boom, known as the roaring 20's, Erté would shift his attention to "set and costume" design for the stage and theater. He designed for the Ziegfeld Follies and many other musical revues in America and Europe, oftentimes inventing new formats in the process. His trademark flowing gowns, with their long trailing trains, are icons of popular style. As late in his career as 1988 he was to design the entire set and the costumes for the Broadway musical, 'Stardust.'

It was only natural that Hollywood would eventually look towards Erté. As cinematography was making a transition from silent to sound, the emphasis was typically put upon "big production" as opposed to good acting. He worked on the original Ben-Hur in 1924 for Louis B. Mayer, and then again for the MGM remake in 1959 which won 11 Academy Awards. Erté was also the designer behind many of the early movies starring Marion Davis, which were produced by William Randolph Hearst. Aside from major productions he was, "Designer to the Stars," for a very long list of greats which included Joan Crawford and Lillian Gish.

As if his early career was not enough, he was re-discovered in the 1960's. This resulted in a Art Deco Revival that lasted for three decades -- longer than the original movement. During this revival period, while Erté was in his 70's, he began creating metal sculpture, lithographs, serigraphs and paintings in an effort to satisfy the demand for his art. Glamour and beauty were always the essence of whatever he did, and his signature style is instantly recognizable in any media.

Erté's work can be found online and in museums around the world including the De Young Museum in San Francisco www.deyoung.famsf.org), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York www.metmuseum.org).

Erté believed that it is everyone's duty to "make themselves as attractive as possible," and throughout his long career he always considered his designs to be a part of that formula.

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