Father's Day gives us a timely opportunity to do what we do best, apart from designing watches that is, which is to celebrate aspects of the Age of Art Deco that are still worth remembering today. So, we’d like to celebrate a very special father: Erté - The Father of Art Deco
Why is a childless, gay man, who was obsessed with visualizations of femininity, known as The Father of Art Deco? Largely it is because of the influence his work had over many future generations of designers across a myriad of art-forms. Perhaps it is also because of his single-minded dedication to his work – he famously said:
Professional focus is certainly a fatherly predisposition, historically. These days however, you could argue that fatherhood is a multi-faceted occupation requiring patience, hard work, opportunism, resilience and imagination. Erté demonstrated these values in abundance, making him a very modern father indeed.
Erté’s story is typical of the period which was characterized by much profound social, cultural and technological change. He was born Romain de Tirtoff, in 1892 in St. Petersburg. He is most acclaimed for his illustrations for Harper’s Bazaar and stage design, but his creative instincts were apparent much earlier, designing dresses for his mother at the age of five and enjoying the ballet and opera of the imperial theater of pre-World War I Russia.
Coming from a lofty, aristocratic family, it would have been easy to slip into a world of gaming tables and other ‘gentlemanly pursuits.’ He was expected to join the navy and become an officer, but Erté defied expectation and tradition when he left for Paris at age nineteen.
He showed his resilience and opportunism through an introduction to iconic fashion designer Paul Poiret, having initially been dismissed as a draftsman by an average fashion house for a perceived lack of aptitude. Poiret invented the bra, harem skirt and tubular dress; he drew on live models, commissioned artists to draw on his fabric and started his own perfume label. Working closely with such an innovator, Erté could envelop himself within the world of fashion and the exciting haute couture scene of 1920s Paris.
Poiret also gave him the name Erté, which is the French pronunciation of his initials R.T. The Russian was prolific and worked extraordinarily hard – he created over 2,500 pen and ink drawings and gouache designs and 240 covers for Harper’s Bazar from 1915 to 1936, along with many covers for Vogue and Cosmopolitan. The mass production of the age put his talents in the hands of millions of readers across the world. We can only share a fraction of his work, but you can see how Erté was inspired by the cultural and social movements of the time.
He did not place women in the background, as decorative accessories to their center-stage men. Instead, his work featured free-spirted femininity, confidently enjoying all that the modern world had to offer; from cruising foreign shores in speedboats to strutting in glamorous formal wear in the bright lights of the big city. Erté’s women had poise and even a degree of aloofness, but were characterful, never just a vehicle for showing off clothes. The personality of his work is what makes it so appealing today, beyond the sheer excellence of the craftsmanship and boldness of his designs.
The glamour of the French Revue and Broadway become the next canvas for Erte’s imagination, designing sets and costumes for some the most iconic productions of the era. One costume required 6.5 miles of gold material – budget was never an issue and the opulence and indulgence of his vision was uncompromising. Had Erte co-designed our Lexington watch, he likely would have also insisted that it be made exclusively in solid 18k gold.
The true scale of his output was revealed to a different generation some decades later when, in 1965, he was persuaded to publish thousands of perfectly preserved drawings that had been stored in his cellar. The result? An Art Deco revival.
Erté’s influence on Bremoir and the Lexington, is simple. Through people like him, who captured the Spirit of the Age so perfectly across such a range of decades and art-forms, Art Deco has remained fresh and relevant. The buildings are still standing and admired, furniture is still sold in galleries, jazz is still improvised and its fashion is still fashionable.
As the founder of Bremoir, I am grateful for the longevity of the Art Deco aesthetic – not only has it helped me design the Lexington, with its unique geometric shapes and impactful colors, but it has led to people buying them too. This Father's Day we’ll surely be celebrating by raising a glass to Erté, The Father of Art Deco.