Sunday, November 23, 2008

Romain de Tirtoff (Erté)

Romain de Tirtoff (Erté) born 23 November 1892 (d.1990)

Romain de Tirtoff (pseudonym Erté, a French pronunciation of initials RT) was a French artist and designer.

Tirtoff was born as Roman Petrovich Tyrtov in St Petersburg, Russian Empire to a very distinguished family. His father Pyotr Ivanovich Tyrtov was a Fleet Admiral.

Erté discovered a love of costuming through the ballet. By his teens, he was sketching his own designs and at age 20 ventured to Paris to pursue a career as a designer. This decision was made over strong objections of his father, who wanted Romain to continue a family tradition and to become a marine officer. Romain assumed the pseudonym to avoid disgracing the family. He first drew attention for his costumes for Mata Hari and in 1915 he got his first significant contract with Harper's Bazaar magazine.

Between the two world wars, Erté designed spectacular scenery and costumes for the ballet, opera, theatre, and music-hall. His work on the Ziegfeld Follies, the Folies-Bergère, and shows at the Casino de Paris and the London Palladium is considered some of his best. But Erté's imagination stretched far beyond clothing. He designed everything from fabric, linens, and furniture to handbags, watches, and perfume bottles.

Erté is perhaps most famous for his elegant fashion designs which capture the art deco period in which he worked. His delicate figures and sophisticated, glamorous designs are instantly recognisable, and his ideas and art influence fashion into the 21st century.

Although Erté continued to work extensively throughout the 1950s and 1960s, it was not until the Art Deco revival of the 1970s and 1980s that his work again became fashionable, particularly in the United States. Many of his lithographs became popular posters.

By far his best known image is Symphony in Black [pictured], depicting a tall, slender woman draped in black holding a thin black dog. This influential image has been reproduced and copied countless times.

In 1975, he published a memoir, Things I Remember: An Autobiography. While discreet, the book is frank about the number and nature of his romantic liaisons, including descriptions of the homosexual demi-monde of 1920s Paris.

Vigorous and working until the end, Erté died on April 21, 1990 at the age of 97. His unique vision and genuine talent have made him a lasting fashion icon.

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