Erte~The Story in Black & White



Erte’s Art Deco designs have left an indelible mark on my style journey.  I have always gravitated to the distinct silhouette, shapes, and fluidity of his fabulous clothing designs. There was an Orientalist aesthetic that deeply penetrated its way into the Art Deco Period. The Japanese kimono, the fluidity of the silk fabrics, obi-sashes, and the attention toward shaping the long view of a silhouette were all borrowed and modified to suit Western tastes.  Many of these elements have found their way into my wardrobe.

There was another Art Deco feature popular during the 1920’s that Erte embraced: black and white designs.  My grandmother was a Flapper in Chicago during the 1920’s.  She would tell us fantastic stories about watching Rudolph Valentino dance at the great ballrooms and music halls.  She described how women would all throw their undergarments onto the stage as Valentino danced the Tango (see it in action).  My grandmother told of slipping into basement entrances to avoid the spray of Tommy-guns from the warring mobs of the day.  She told of the dances, parties and life during the Prohibition,  and the Speakeasies where she would meet her friends.  I also heard about the gorgeous clothing that freed the body for dance and followed it like liquid.  I have one of her dresses, but it is fragile. My grandmother preferred apartment living.  She always chose to live in apartments built during the 1920’s.  My memories of my grandmother are embellished by the Art Deco design details of the apartments she lived in as well as her mesmerizing stories.  I can clearly recall the elaborately detailed small black and white tile designs in the bathrooms and kitchens of her apartment. In fact, as I was admiring them during one visit, she launched into a story  about one of here fabulous black and white outfits she wore to a dance she attended back in her Flapper days. She described many of her dresses in great detail. I have one of them…an elaborately beaded silk in apricot, but it is the ones that slipped through time that enchanted me.  One of the dresses she described was a black and white Erte-like ensemble. 

The photo I used for this posts header is from my collection of Erte paper dolls.  They are all in black and white.  I like to imagine that one of these designs was the black and white ensemble I heard so richly described by my grandmother.



Today’s outfit is in black and white.  The black silk trousers are from Elizabeth & James.  They are high-waisted with a wide leg cut which gives them a fluid movement.  I love clothes that have an easy, liquid-like movement.   The white silk tassel wrap is from Italy.  My mother purchased this from Neiman Marcus as a gift to me about thirty years ago. It was an investment at the time!  The kimono top is from Zara.  I love it.  I wish I bought, two.  It has a silk-like feel and there is a small diamond quilted pattern in the fabric. 





The accessories include the B-Low the Belt black leather tassel wrap that was included in the Fall edition of Rachel Zoe’s Box of Style.  It is fabulous and is fast becoming a favorite piece.  The necklace it a large white resin and gold tone piece and the earrings are white silk and rhinestone and were designed to resemble orchids.

3 thoughts on “Erte~The Story in Black & White

  1. Thank you, Nancy. My paternal grandmother grew up in Chicago. I was her second grandchild. She lived independently until she was 87….always sharp. It was lucky for me that I was able to spend long afternoons with her during my visits. I was in my 30’s when she died. I enjoyed her company, her never endless supply of Coca Cola (we never had pop in our house), and shared her love of stories. My aunts, uncles, and those that knew her always said, “If you want to know the real story…go to your grandmother…she includes ALL the details.”


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