Romain de Tirtoff (aka Erté) was born in St Petersburg in 1892. He grew up in a well-to-do upper class family and as a little boy he was introduced to the elegance typical of the haute bourgeoisie. Her mother used to take him with her during cultural gatherings, so he had the chance to watch the alluring elegance of well-dressed high society ladies adorned with sparkling fine jewellery. Russia's social elite used to meet in fine interiors' apartments full of arts like paintings and ancient objects such as Greek vases and similar artefacts. His passion for classical art will inspire him so much during his career. Also his father's Perisan miniatures can be found as well in many of his illustrations.
However, the experience that changed his life for ever was his visit at the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1900. During that year, the Belle Epoque was at its most sparkle, with Paris as the cultural Capital of the world. This period, starting in 1871 and ending with the beginning of the Great War in 1914, was known as an age of happiness, peace, optimism and prosperity. The non-stop discoveries and technological innovations instilled good vibrations in people of the time and the industrial production as well as the world trade increased consistently. The little Romain was so fascinated, both with the city as well as by what he saw at the fair that, later on, he decided to moved to Paris to pursue a career as a designer.
“I believe that feminine clothes should serve to adorn women’s charm”
— Romain de Tirtoff (Erté)
While waiting for his first brake in Paris, Romain frequented as many ballets as possible, where he could admire the magnificent costume-like clothing accessorised by sophisticated jewellery. This passion would lead him to reap dividends for his career alongside his future works.
Finally, his unique talent was immediately recognized by Paris most established couturiers and in 1913 he was summoned to work with couturier Paul Poiret, who fell in love with his drawings. The flowing curvilinear form of the extravagant gowns characterized its works that sometimes were signed by Poiret himself. While working for the French maison, Romain designed a number of costumes for various theatrical productions under the pseudonym of Erté that he will use along his whole career.
But it’s in 1915 that Erté actually started to make a name for himself. He decided to send his drawings to Harper’s Bazaar, a leading American fashion magazine that hired him the same year. After just few months of covers, he was considered by the magazine as a famous creative and talented designer so they offered him a 10-year exclusivity contract. What readers liked of Erté appealing front covers where the colourful and elegant lines that they perceived as innovative fashion.
Harper's Bazaar, 1915-1929