ERTÉ (1892-990) is one of fashion’s most iconic figures. He was not only an excellent illustrator but also a noted costume and set designer. He was born in St. Petersburg. Russia but later naturalized as a French citizen. He was 76 years old when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York mounted an exhibit of his works causing him to be rediscovered by art dealers and collectors and improving the market for his work today.
In Russia, as a young boy, he studied at the atelier of Ilia Repin. In 1912, he decided to improve his talent at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the École de Beaux-Art. Legendary couturier Paul Poiret discovered him and gave him a start, allowing him to earn a living by designing models for his collections, a trade that fascinated him. From Paris, he sent drawings to Damsky Min, the most important fashion magazine in czarist Russia while in Paris, Poiret opened doors of the Gazette du Bon Ton to him.
Sergey Pavlovich Diaghilev, Russian ballet impresario who with Ballet Russes revived Ballet as a serious art form, asked him to design costumes and sets. Erté’s style, though influenced by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, and by Art Deco patterns, had an original touch, which was borne out of the exotic pictures he saw in the library of his father, a world-travelled admiral. These included 16th century Persian and Indian miniatures, from which he acquired certain precious decorative motifs, as well as a love for details and for gold and silver.
Between 1916 and 1938 he designed innumerable covers for Harpers’ Bazaar. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he would work in both Paris and New York on the sets of the Folies Bergères where he designed several costumes for Joséphine Baker and the Zeigfeld Follies. Hollywood also wanted him, and he created sets and costumes for The Mystic and La Bohème.
If one were to name a fashion illustrator that he most admires, that would be Romain de Tirtoff, famously and popularly known as ERTÉ.