Romain de Tirtoff (23 November 1892 – 21 April 1990) was a Russian-born artist and designer known by the pseudonym, Erté, from the French pronunciation of his initials.
I had the amazing experience of working with the legendary Erté on two occasions. Both were tied into launches of his new works. The first was in 1974, it was the year that Saks Fifth Avenue (Corporate) was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the store’s opening in New York (the store opened on Fifth Avenue on September 15, 1924) and the Chicago store was celebrating this special event with an elaborate cocktail party. Designers had been asked to do special Art Deco inspired garments which we used in our Michigan Avenue windows as well as on models for the event. At the same time, Erté was launching his jewelry collection at the Circle Gallery in the Chicago Marriott Hotel on Michigan Avenue and I was asked to have models dressed in Art Deco garments do informal modeling for this cocktail party…what a perfect tie-in! One of his art pieces featured a gown with a beaded cobweb for a sleeve. We had a similar piece in our collection and I thought it would be amusing to feature it. How presumptuous of me….here I was with a group of models gowned in Art Deco inspired garments and one inspired by the master himself!!!! As I remember it, I held back on sending out the model in the “spider web” gown but finally did…he LOVED it and thought it was very clever! My reputation was saved!!!!
The second was in 1981 to celebrate his 89th birthday at a champagne reception at the Circle Gallery followed by a ball. I co-chaired (I was asked to be involved because of the successful first event I did with Erté) the evening with Jo Hopkins Deutsch for the Fashion Group International of Chicago. There was a student Erté fashion design competition and the winners were presented their awards by this famed creator! This exhibition featured a retrospective of all his work. Guests were encouraged to wear Erté inspired dress or black tie. It was a very dramatic exciting evening. The piece you see below was given to the guests, Jo’s and mine were personally signed by Erté. Unfortunately, the writing has faded with time but says “To Nena Ivon with many thanks for a wonderful evening” with his signature! A true treasure of mine.
My framed poster from the Fashion Group event. The signing in on her sleeve. (I must remember to always do non-glare glass on my pieces, I had a very difficult time photographing this, finally put it on the floor!!!)
The original Top Hats as pictured on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar can you spot all the differences?
Front of the invitation to the Fashion Group event.
My other serigraph, La Traviata, was given to me by my Mother in 1982. I don’t remember the occasion, but it is my favorite opera.
Both these posters were hanging in my office at Saks and now live in my friends, Tom Hawley and Tom Mantel’s, home along with their Erté‘s, see the photo below.
Two spectacular pieces flanking a magnificent Erté bronze.
“Kings Favorite” bronze with painted enamel face and silver leaf on the gown. Isn’t she glorious!!!
To have been able to work with this iconic creator was obviously a once (no, a twice) in a lifetime experience. Imagine being able to talk with an artist without equal in the world of fashion…a man who created more than 200 covers for Harper’s Bazaar, started his career with Paul Poiret (it has been debated that it was Erté, not Poiret, who created the now famous “lampshade” silhouette), designed for the Follies Bergère and the Ziegfeld Follies, for film, as well as dressing many of the celebrities of the time and to have created for most of the 20th century…I am truly a very lucky gal!
A Harper’s Bazar cover before the name change to Bazaar!
Costumes for the Follies Bergère.
There are many books on Erté including his autobiography,. I have found the biographies written by Charles Spencer to be the most definitive.
My collection of Erté and other books on Russian designers and clothing…the one in Russian I got in Moscow, can’t read it but the pictures tell the story well. The Jacqueline Onassis edited In The Russian Style was the companion book for the Met’s/Vreeland Russian costume exhibition which was extraordinary!
Looks like I need to add to my collection and this is only a sampling!
He was a total joy to work with, very debonair, very French and, of course, without equal in creativity.
***I meant to include a note on a film I wanted to recommend yesterday in my posting on malachite. The film is The Russian Arc, it was filmed with one camera in the Hermitage. I find it fascinating, others find it quite strange…to each his own! Give it a try and let me know your thoughts, which I always welcome on each of my postings. Thanks for coming along with my wanderings through nenasnotes!