Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hot Erté

There are certain artists and designers whose work you take to at first sight. See ... draw breath ... admire, then post a replica as a visual trophy on an inspiration board.

Other artists ignite a slow burn. You see their pieces for years and never feel more than low-level regard. And then you change, the way you see it changes, and abruptly, it's love at thousandth sight.

That's how it's gone with me and Erté. In years past I was vaguely put off by its graphic perfection--too pretty, too calculating, not enough effort evident to make it interesting.

Now I could look at his work all day--perhaps because after so many years of seeing style gown awry, his work's beautifully contained flamboyance, like a jungle bird's, sits just right.

Which is a longwinded way of introducing a designer who helped frame the figural element of Art Deco style. Here are some tidbits about his life and career, from the excellent biography at

* The name Erté is a shortened version of his birth name, Roman Petrovich Tyrtov.

* His father, an admiral in the Russian Imperial Fleet, wanted him to become a marine officer. Even from the age of six, the boy preferred making detailed sketches of evening gowns to playing battleships. He fled to Paris at age 20, and became a partner of Paul Poiret.

* He designed a dance costume for Mata Hari and countless others at the Ballets Russe, the theatre, opera, and later MGM films, including Ben Hur.

* He created 240 Harper's Bazaar covers, from 1917 to 1937.

Is it possible to bring an element of Erté style to the contemporary wardrobe? I think so, especially if you come across a cap as dramatically deco as the one below.

This is not something you wear to a picnic, or even a big dinner out--it's simply too costumey for that. But it is ideal for a New Year's Eve party, or a Mardi Gras ball . . . where flamboyance is expected, and some personal grand opera is just right for the night.


  1. I think my feelings were the same for the longest time. He's a genius hidden in plain sight. His illustrations like Cardin were spread too thick and too broad for so long, I became deadened to his artistry and perfection. Thank you for waking me up and re introducing me to him. You're a very special person Christa. I wish you a wonderful holiday and I send you a transatlantic kiss!
    Eric and Fluff

  2. Besos back, you two! Eric, will be in Barcelona over New Year's. Any faves there?

  3. Thanks for sharing your blog its really awesome thanks.