Posted in Style Influencers

Erté: Style Influence from a Fashion Illustrator

“Not only do I do what I want to do, but I do my work in my own way and never have been influenced by another artist.” ~ Erté

I was on a cruise a few years ago on a small luxury-line ship that showcased some extraordinary artwork. I know, I know: art auctions of schlocky crap are ubiquitous on cruise lines of a certain ilk. This one was different. There were no auctions (with free champagne since champagne flowed freely for everyone all the time), there were no sales people trying sell us pieces in a gallery; rather there were wonderful pieces all around the ship everywhere you looked. It was extraordinary – and they were all for sale.

One day, late in the afternoon, my husband returned to our suite from somewhere (I can’t remember where he had been without me!). He said he had seen the perfect Gloria Glamont piece hanging in one of the staircase landings. So off we went to see it.

The piece was called “Manhattan Mary” and it was a limited edition print of a fashion drawing by Erté. At that point in my life I had no idea who Erté was. All I knew at that moment was that yes, I had to have it. So the research began.

erte as a young man
Erte as a young man.

 

As soon as we were back happily ensconced in our suite with a glass of something – probably bubbly – we got to work on Mr. Google.

Erté is, in fact, often referred to as one of the single most important fashion influencers of the twentieth century. Born in Russia in 1892 Erté became one of the twentieth-century’s best-known French designers for theatre, ballet, and the rest of us, but for me the style lessons emerge from his illustrations. His name comes from his initials: he was named Romain de Tirtoff. His initials R.T. when said with the French pronunciation become Er-té (Air-tay for those who do not speak French!)

Evidently, at age five he designed his first costume in spite of having a father who had his heart set on a military career for his son. He moved to Paris in 1912 where he began his career as a fashion illustrator. He worked first for designer Paul Poiret then for Harper’s Bazaar. I truly love Erté’s aesthetic as immortalized in his illustrations of others’ designs, but what I really love is his own designs of fashion, theatrical costume and theatre sets which are all heavily influenced by his era – Art Deco.

Well, we purchased the piece. Titled Manhattan Mary I, the piece was a limited edition print signed by the artist himself (Erté died in 1990). My research told me that he had created stage costumes for a Broadway production called Manhattan Mary in the last 1930’s and that this was one of a series he did in the 1970’s based on the earlier work. My piece is numbered 267/300. What I love about my Mary is everything.

my manhattan mary
My “Manhattan Mary”

 

I love his fashion illustration style. I love Mary’s demeanor. I really love the dress she’s wearing. As I examine more and more of his work (he also designed wall décor, brooches, earrings, did sculpture – all with the same aesthetic) I realize that at some point (after I finish my homage to Coco Chanel project) I will probably embark on a project to create a reproduction of one of his art deco-styled dresses.

I’m so inspired by those who have gone before and left their mark on our culture and style. It would be a shame for people to forget about these inspired creators who may not have fashion houses named after them in the twenty-first century because so much can be gained from studying them. I’m going to go and take a new look at my Mary and see what I can learn about her for my own wardrobe.

Who’s your favourite, lesser-known fashion influencer?

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