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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Posted in Fashion, Style, Style Influencers

Edith Head:Style lessons from a costume designer

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[Above, the extraordinary Grace Kelly in an Edith Head gown.]

It’s really an understatement to call the legendary Edith Head simply a ‘costume designer.’ She certainly was that, and a whole lot more. Even as a junior-high-school nerd, I knew who she was. To me her name conjured up stylish women in sophisticated suits, coats, gowns and even hats (although to tell you the truth I’ve never really been a hat woman myself – look terrible in them!). And did you know that she has won more Oscars than any other woman? Not an actress, but a designer!

This week I stumbled on a piece about her and it made me think about how her movie costumes might have influenced the way I see fashion for those of us of a certain age – and all other women who care about themselves.

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Her day dress for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951)

Edith Head designed costumes for so many movies that not only captured a film era, but also a style era. When I look back on many of the pieces she created I see timeless classics that work for young women and for women of a certain age. When you’re in your 50’s and beyond you can carry off a whole lot of sophistication and elegance that in today’s fabrics would also offer comfort. I mean, who really wouldn’t like to have a great suit like Audrey is wearing in Funny Face? (in spite of the fact that my suit wearing days are thankfully behind me as I navigate a whole new life after work!)

Funny Hepburn
7th July 1956: Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) films a scene for the Paramount musical ‘Funny Face’. Costumes by Givenchy. Original Publication: Picture Post – 8540 – Audrey Dances With Astaire – pub. 1957 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images)

Five lessons I have learned from Edith Head about style at a certain age:

  • Sexy doesn’t equal skin exposure. It was true in her time, and it is true now.
  • Alluring is better than sexy anyway – at any age.
  • Fit is everything. If a piece fits to perfection it doesn’t matter if it’s from TJ Maxx or Chanel.
  • Most of the time, less really is more. A great piece of clothing doesn’t need huge jewelry despite what the fashion magazines might say. Big accessories are trying to distract you from something nasty usually!
  • Quality beats quantity every time. Wonderful fabrics make everything better – for me it’s better to have one fantastic, well-crafted sweater that I love to wear than three that are just meh.

Edith Head is one of my fashion influencers. But there are others! Til next time!