(St. Petersburg, 1892 – Paris, 1990)
Erté, byname of Romain de Tirtoff, (born November 23, 1892, St. Petersburg, Russia—died April 21, 1990, Paris, France), fashion illustrator of the 1920s and creator of visual spectacle for French music-hall revues. His designs included dresses and accessories for women; costumes and sets for opera, ballet, and dramatic productions; and posters and prints.
The only son of an admiral in the Imperial Fleet, he was raised amidst Russia's social elite. As a young boy, Romain worshipped his mother and was educated at home until the age of twelve, spending much of the time in the company of elegant women. At the age of five he created an evening gown for his mother and managed to persuade the adults to craft it, they were astounded by the results. He was also fascinated by the Persian miniatures he found in his father's library; these exotic, brightly patterned designs continued to be important to him and influenced the development of his style.
In 1912, Romain left St. Petersburg for Paris at the age of nineteen with the aim of becoming an artist. He took nothing with him and as it turned out he was leaving Russia forever.
He then became a costume designer and began selling his pen-and-ink and gouache fashion illustrations to American fashion houses. From 1916 to 1937 he was under contract to the American fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar.
The same lavish style marked Erté’s theatrical designs. For 35 years he designed elaborately structured opening tableaus, finale scenes, and costumes for the French theatre. He worked for the Folies-Bergère in Paris from 1919 to 1930.
Erté – Romain Petrovich de Tirtoff – died in April 1990 at the age of ninety-seven in Paris.