Thursday, April 5, 2012
My mother received a present of a book of Erte's fashion illustrations when I was aged 8 years old. I loved drawing but this book was a revelation to me. I had a collection of picture books and comics but this opened my eyes to what illustration could be; realistic or abstract, naturalistic or fantasy based - whatever way you wanted to make it. His work was ingenious and exquisite and fun. I began to draw properly; faces, profile, bodies (that were clearly recognisable as such!) after I looked at those drawings long enough. It felt like a massive development - as if you just discovered that you could walk rather than simply crawl fast...
His life story is fascinating. He was born in Russia in 1892. His name was Roman de Tirtoff, becoming Erte (his initials) when he moved to Paris and began his life as a designer in 1915. He worked as a fashion illustrator, costume designer, fashion designer, movie costume designer, jewelry designer, sculptor, etc. He even worked in advertising, creating a fabulous add campaign "Glamorous Guinness" in the 1960's.
Over the years that followed I liked to dream that if he were still alive by the time I was old enough to travel by myself then I would go to Paris and meet him or as close as I could get to actually meeting him - hanging around outside his house would have been a satisfactory result as well -although what the man himself might have made of it is anybody's guess.... It didn't happen - although he did live to be 97 and worked more or less until the end, the career he loved spanned about 76 years. Not a bad result by any standards.