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 neonissima.com.
* 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.