The "Father of Art Deco," illustrator and designer Erté was born Romain de Tirtoff (1892–1990) on this day in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The son of an affluent admiral, he was raised on the magic of opera and ballet and rejected a military career almost immediately. "Once I had staged my first rebellion against those wooden soldiers, there was no let-up," he said.
Calling himself Erté, the French pronunciation of his initials ("air-TAY"), he fell in love with Paris and took the city's fashion world by storm with his colorful and innovative creations. His extravagant Folies-Bergère costumes and stage sets were legendary.
"I loathe wearing the same clothes two days running or eating the same dishes over and over again," he once said.
He created clothes for the notorious World War I spy Mata Hari. "She was not really beautiful," Erté said. "She had a sensuous body, but she lacked personality... Her exotic image was a product of her own vivid imagination."
Erté shaped and energized fashion traditions. The groundbreaking cover art he designed for Harper's Bazaar (1915-1937) was called "meticulous, detailed, classically balanced, geometrically beautiful," by S.S. Fair of the New York Times.
"Being alone is vitally important for me and my work. I'm like a cat, solitary, independent and quiet by nature," he said. Celebrating the "sexual power of the female body," he designed for the Ziegfeld Follies and Hollywood film studios; Josephine Baker, Anna Pavlova, and Barbra Streisand.
Whether the catwalk or Broadway, in lithographs or sculpture, he worked for over 75 years, remaining prolific at the time of his death, his styles live on in the sketches of Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, and others.
"I'm in a different world," he wrote in his autobiography, "a dream world that invites oblivion. People take drugs to achieve such freedom from their daily cares. I've never taken drugs. I've never needed them."
No time for boredom...