The subject of The Met’s latest exhibit may not be as well known to those who spend their days scrolling their Instagram feeds rather than searching through early 20th century magazine archives, but it’s a must-see for any fashion lover. Romain de Tirtoff, better known as Erté, was a fashion designer, stylist, reporter, costume designer and illustrator, and one of the most well-respected icons of the '20s and '30s. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his death, the Met is putting several of his iconic illustrations on display during his time with Delman shoes. The images show not only his talent as a designer and artist, but his aptitude for creativity and unexpected silhouettes.
Moving from Paris to America at the brink of WWI, Erté found almost immediate success designing for Henri Bendel and B. Altman & Co. Within a few years he was gaining notoriety as a fashion insider and found an outlet in Harper’s Bazaar, where he published his letters, designs and fashion reports almost exclusively for the next twenty years. From 1915 to 1936, he had contributed to 264 of the magazine's issues and designed 240 of those covers. Having seen his work in Harper’s Bazaar, Broadway producer George White asked Erté to design costumes for his production and through the ‘20s and ‘30s he was a costume designer for many plays and musicals.
Throughout his career he kept most of his original gouaches and instead employed copy artists to create facsimiles to send to manufacturers, preferring to hold onto his personal artwork. While many of his designs have been lost over the years (it’s been nearly a century) many pieces from this personal collection have remained intact, allowing for a more complete history of his work and creative genius. Only two retrospectives of his work took place in his lifetime—one at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1966 and the other at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1968.
This exhibit, which will run until September 28, will feature a selection of Erté’s gouaches from his partnership with Delman shoes in the ‘30s, as none of the original footwear remains. Several shoes and illustrations from Erté’s contemporaries will also be on display to offer a more complete look at the style of the time period.