Erte Speaks His Mind (By Annette Buroughs – PHOTOPLAY February, 1926)

PHOTOPLAY February, 1926

Erte Speaks His Mind

And breaks a few cherished illusions

By Annette Buroughs

They seemed made for each other, the movies and Erte. One of Paris’ most original style dictators, creating frocks of startling beauty and luxury, Erte’ listened to the siren song of Hollywood, all agog to clothe gobs of beautiful stars. Thus he came to the City of the Angels and there—but read it yourself

IN the first place, he says our shoulders are like what you hang clothes on! Quite square and unshapely. Our long limbs he admires, for it is easy to swirl a hank of silk around long-legged ladies and make them look like sinuous sirens. But the beauty that is Hollywood’s— the legendary fairness of its damsels—he fails to find. Our film beauties, says he, are no more beautiful than any other women and offer no more inspiration. It has also been whispered that he said they were dumb —but it has not been verified! Romain de Tirtoff-Erte is the name of dreams. And Romain refers to dressing far more spicy than the salad. He is the Erte of Paris. The man who does the impossible with yards of slithering silks and stiff costly satins. Chiffons, too. he drapes on flat-bosomed mannequins—and hefty dowagers buy them. He makes bizarre follies that are copied by the Eollies Bergere. He made the centipede lash famous—the thicket-like lash that surrounds the glittering orbs of fashion magazine ladies.

Lillian Gish Renee Adoree Catherine Vidor Valetina Zimina (La Boheme)
Lillian Gish Renee Adoree Catherine Vidor Valetina Zimina (La Boheme)

Then he came to Hollywood to put Art in motion pictures. But it seems that Art wouldn’t stay in its proper niche and kept popping out for air and going on excursions. Which disgusted him. Too, what could an artist do with a lady—prettily plump — who refused to keep her corsets on while wearing a dress all ruffles and frills? And when young ladies with prominent shoulder blades “angel wings” the kids called them —would insist upon wearing decollete frocks? And whoever heard of a young miss—poor but of impeccable character — wearing finest silk from cuticle out? And the tragedy of designing four separate series of sets and costumes for a motion picture, and then to have the fifth draft of the story place all the action in the prop room!

(LA BOHEME) de King Vidor 1926 USA avec John Gilbert et Lillian Gish retrouvaille, caleche, diligence, cocher, chevaux d'apres le roman de Henri Murger PMRCJN
(LA BOHEME) de King Vidor 1926 USA avec John Gilbert et Lillian Gish d’apres le roman de Henri Murger

It is to weep. Small wonder, then, from the sounds of strife emanating from his studio, that we pictured Erte as a peppery and volcanic French man with a goatee and grasshopper motions, who probably waved tape – line and shears in expostulatory manner. A cartoon Frenchman with comic opera trimmings. Instead, he is a mild-mannered man with smooth cropped black hair and a gently tilted nose faintly reminiscent of a sur prised rabbit. He wears a pearl bracelet about one wrist. His constant companion is a Prince who has the enviable ability of bowing gracefully from the waist. Renee Adoree was the first film miss who was trotted out for comment. Renee is a native of la belle France and Erte has nothing but admiration for her art but that adorable little Melisande of “The Big Parade” received a gentle rap about her rounded curves.

Renee Adoree - La Boheme - Musette
Renee Adoree – La Boheme – Musette

For her part as Musette in “La Boheme, ” Erte designed a gorgeous frock of huge puffed sleeves, voluminous skirts ami wasp-like bodice. (Incidentally, you fashion devotees, Erte is an arch enemy of that confining mode. It destroys the grace of line, he says, and will never be reinstated in the style world.)

Renee Adoree and Lillian Gish in La Boheme (Musette and Mimi)
Renee Adoree and Lillian Gish in La Boheme (Musette and Mimi)

” The first day she looked exquisite—like a doll. But on the second day she insisted that she could not wear corsets and eat —and eat she must, so off came her corsets. She looked like a balloon!” Two sensitive hands made an airy outline of her appearance. But to say a lady looks like a balloon! It simply isn’t done in Hollywood, you know. Not even at ‘”cat parties.”

Renee Adoree and John Gilbert - La Boheme - Musette and Rodophe
Renee Adoree and John Gilbert – La Boheme – Musette and Rodophe
Lillian Gish as Mimi in La Boheme
Lillian Gish as Mimi in La Boheme

And then there was Lillian Gish.

“I designed a pretty costume for her as Mimi in ‘La Boheme.’ Mimi is a poor girl whose poverty is shown in her clothes. Of inexpensive materials I fashioned the dress—of wools and cottons.

” ‘ But no!’ says Miss Gish, ‘I do not wear harsh fabrics next to my skin. They must be of sheerest silk.’

“Silks! Can you imagine silks for a girl who lives simply and whose marriage dowry is a mere tritle!

“So I told Miss Gish she may have the designs—is very welcome to them—but she is never to enter my studio door again. Let her make the costumes herself!”

CONSTANCE BENNETT, the idol of a million flappers as she cavorts upon the screen, is not perfect, either, in Erte’s eyes. Slender Connie needs a milk diet to hide the angles that are so hard to mask when designing gowns for her. Her slim, girlish shoulders were not intended for evening frocks that daringly reveal numerous vertebrae and even Erte couldn’t cover her naughty shoulder bones that provokingly thrust themselves out like twin blades. And, oh dear! Nothing seems quite right with our picture ladies. Aileen Pringle — artists have raved over her—has a beautiful face, but her body is dreadfully hard to clothe in lines of smooth symmetry. However, a dazzling blonde won Erte’s approval, and also a vivid brunette. Claire Windsor and Carmel Myers he mentioned with delight. Carmel, particularly, was a joy to gown, because she knew how to wear her clothes. Her movements are slow and undulating — not short and jerky. She moves with a grace that adds distinction to any frock. No useless motions of the hands—Erte loathes the technique that teaches of fluttering ringers.

Norma Shearer C19
Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer drew a compliment for her sleek coiffure, although it had not been his privilege to create a gown for her. “Miss Shearer should wear her hair drawn smoothly back from her face. It gives her a distinguished air. Fluffy hair is for faces not so beautiful.” Another thing that puzzles Erte, born of France — “Alas, my friends in Paris — they send me clippings of stories that have been published in French journals. One of the stories says, ‘Erte advocates shaving the brows from the face and using patent leather eyebrows!’ Imagine! ” My friends say, ‘ Can this be our Erte? He must have gone quite mad in Hollywood—poor Erte! Or perhaps some impostor has taken his name and fame!’ And at the studio the officials say this is publicity—this eyebrow thing. I have no regard for publicity.”

So Erte has packed his drawing book, pencils, eraser and paints and is hieing himself back to Paris, where Art is Art and the feminine form is divine. He does say one thing for Hollywood, tho—harken ye, Chamber of Commerce!

Erte says: “The climate—I love it’ It is glorious!”

La Boheme full cast and crew
La Boheme full cast and crew

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