Research: Erté

Romain de Tirtoff was one of the most famous fashion illustrators of the 20th century. He is better known as “Erté”, a nickname based on the French pronouncitation of his initials. I discovered Erté’s fashion illustrations after visiting the exhibition of 1920s Jazz Age  in The Fashion and Textiles Museum. His illustrations are extravagant, a burst of enthusiasm for the classy, youthful, modern style emerging in 1920s, and also a love for drawing the human figure which he appreciated a lot.

A few years after moving to Paris in 1919, he collaborated with the American women’s fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar. This brilliant collaboration lasted 21 years, and Etré had created what eventually became known as the Art Deco style.

Key Term: Art Deco

A decorative art style of the 1920s and 1930s, using precise and bold geometric shapes and strong colours which are most notably in household objects and in architecture.


This pattern for example was used in the covers for the Great Gatsby film in 2013. It is a beautiful overlap of grey lines and gold, and the symmetrical composition of angular shapes can seem quite hypnotic almost.

These are 6 examples of the Harper Bazaar covers I love the most- they are vivid, attractive, glamorous and truly makes viewers desire to look just as stylish. Erté keeps his colour palette limited, so that each colour stands out brilliantly on its own, such as the red lips, the yellow/ red skirt etc. Every line adds more to the illustration, without one of them, the image would not be the same. I like how he managed to make the illustration more “textured” by shaping text to mimic smoke from the cigarette, the curls of the hair around a headpiece, or the graceful swirls of a full skirt.

Erté used a lot of gouache (opaque watercolour), which he preferred over oils for the density, texture and consistency achieved by the pigments being bound together by glue.


This illustration is clever in how attractive yet theatrical it is. The lady looks up at the rain, deep in thought with the melancholy weather. The lilac is so feminine, and I love Erté’s use of 4 mark making techniques on the outfit and umbrella- swirls, circles, curves and scribbles. The dramatic eyeliner is effective too, and it has viewers admire how pretty this scene looks.


The same effect is apparent in this illustration, there is such an elegant and ethereal sense of movement as she is showered by the pink petals. Erté draws the lady as if she’s is a flower too, and the full skirt is not only flamboyant, but a chic, girly statement piece as it is wrapped in a ribbon of roses. Her tears and sadness affects the audience too, and therefore the piece triggers emotions as well as awe at her beauty.

Erté undoubtedly captures the spirited, youthful era of 1920s and I hope to somehow take his ability in integrating a “storyline” in his illustrations and put it in my work too. Perhaps for this project on “Re-Fashion” with the suit jacket, my illustrations can become more meaningful and “story-based” if it is to reflect a political subject, and its’ influences on society.





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