How art shapes our life: glamor and beauty
By Sal Maccarone
After the turn of the 20th century, all fields of art seem to be in flux. During this time, there were several artists whose work would serve to influence and thus change the direction that art would take. Romain de Tirtoff, (1892-1990), simply known to the world as Erté, was one of those multifaceted individuals. Although he was born in Russia, the name Erté is derived from the French pronunciation of his initials; RT Ultimately, it was to have a profound effect on the realms of illustration, fashion, movie sets and costumes.
Having started in Paris as an artist, Erté did his apprenticeship with the master designer of the time, Paul Poiret. In 1915, at the age of twenty-three, he made his American debut as an illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar magazine. His illustrations were in such demand at the time that he is said to have flipped a coin to decide which magazine he would work for. In that first year, he was tasked with designing Harper’s January cover, and the rest became history. From there he went on to design two hundred more magazine covers and had a long career as the first fashion designer of the Art Deco movement. He has even been called the father of this movement.
During the economic boom known as the Roaring Twenties, Erté turned to setting and costume design. Very early on, he designed elaborate sets for Ziegfeld Follies, and many other musical journals in America. Her signature flowing dresses with their long drag trains are still popular style icons.
Hollywood would eventually turn to Erté. He was the designer of several of the early films produced by William Randolph Hearst. Then, as cinematography made the transition from silence to sound, the focus shifted to big production (as opposed to good acting). He worked on the original Ben-Hur film in 1924 for Louis B. Mayer, then again for the MGM remake in 1959 which won eleven Oscars. In addition to working in big productions, he was the world’s first fashion designer with a client base that included a long list of big names.
Erté was rediscovered in the 1960s, which resulted in an Art Deco revival that spanned three decades, (longer than the original movement). During this period of revival, while in the 1970s, he began to create metal sculptures, lithographs, screen prints and paintings to meet the demand for his art. Glamor and beauty have always been the essence of everything he has done, and his signature style is instantly recognizable around the world.