Art Deco life. Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990)


Erte’s real name is Romain Petrovich Tirtoff. The phenomenal Erte – one of the “pillars” of the Art Deco style, is an almost mystical figure.

Born in the 19th century in Russia and leaving for a dreamland at the end of the 20th century in France, he lived for almost a century, and his legendary pseudonym is made up of capital letters of his real name.

From the age of three, he was fond of drawing and made his first sketch of a dress at the age of six. His mother was delighted and showed the sketch to a dressmaker she knew who had made an evening dress. But the father was not pleased with his son’s hobbies.

Having successfully passed the exams, the 19-year-old Romain asked for a passport as a gift and left Russia forever, first to his beloved Paris. About this city – the center of fashion, beauty, and art – he dreamed of since the age of seven when he visited the World Exhibition.

In his new house and under a new name, Erte began working in the studio of the most progressive couturier of that time, Paul Poiret, creating sketches of outfits, hats.

Art Deco life. Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990)
Soft beauty. Woman with a fan. Romain Tirtoff, 1990

In 1915, the young man received an offer of cooperation from Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazines. Unable to make a choice, he simply threw lots. The case pointed to Harper’s Bazaar, for which in the following years, the artist created hundreds of covers, thousands of drawings, and sketches.

Art Deco life. Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990)
Magazine covers based on Erte’s sketches

Romain Tirtoff himself looked like he had stepped off the cover of a magazine. While creating outfits for fashionistas, he also wore exquisite and extravagant clothes of his own design. In 1926, for a ball at the Paris Opera, he invented a bullfighter costume made of gold brocade. He adorned the huge cape with fresh roses, which he threw into the crowd one by one as he descended the stairs.

Art Deco life. Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990)
Erte dressed as a bullfighter for a ball at the Paris Opera (1926)

Mata Hari and other stars

Mata Hari was one of the first celebrities to be worn by Erte. After the failure of his first attempt to open his own atelier in 1914, the young fashion designer turned to stage costumes. He dressed the artists for the play “Minaret” at the Renaissance Theater in Paris. It was there that the famous courtesan performed her exotic dances. In 1917, Mata Hari was shot on charges of espionage, but this did not affect Erte’s career.

His clients were ballerina Anna Pavlova, star of the music hall “Folies Bergere” Josephine Baker, dancers of the Lido cabaret, the Chicago and London Opera, and the Grand Opera in Paris.

Art Deco life. Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990)
Symphony in black. Series “Theater”,1983

He worked with real Hollywood stars: Oscar winners Norma Shearer and Claudette Colbert, actress Marion Davis, Lillian Gish, and many others.

Art Deco life. Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990)
New York revue dancer in Erte`s costume


Erte’s style is refined, artsy, romantic, exotic, but at the same time, elaborate, functional, rhythmic, and full of fantasy.

In 1987 Erte created the set design for the musical Stardust. This was the artist’s last attempt to demonstrate his free spirit to the world.

He died at the age of 97. A true artist, Erte wrote the script for the funeral in advance and made a sketch of the coffin – it was made of mahogany and decorated with Art Deco wreaths.


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