MM Musings, vol. 22: a different kind of beauty school
Shaking it with Lancome and Manet

More zodiac compact fun with Estée Lauder and Erté

This is the third and final installment of my unofficial series on zodiac/calendar themed beauty items.  Today I'm sharing Estée Lauder's epic collaboration with Art Deco artist Erté (1892-1990).  Erté completed a series of illustrations for the 12 zodiac signs, and in 2004 Estée rendered them in enamel to appear on their Lucidity powder compacts.  Why they added clear rhinestones on the sides is beyond me, as I feel the illustrations are beautiful enough to stand on their own.  Another thing I'm not clear on is when Erté illustrated these. I know the serigraphs were produced in 1982, but I don't know if that means Erté actually created them that year as well or if they existed as paintings prior to that.

Anyway, let's have a look.  Here are the compacts and the artist's original illustration below.  Capricorn:

Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Capricorn

Erté - Capricorn
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Aquarius

Erté Aquarius
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Pisces

Erté - Pisces
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Aries

Erté - Aries
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Taurus

Erté - Taurus
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Gemini

Erté - Gemini
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Cancer

Erté - Cancer
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Leo

Erté - Leo
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Virgo

Erté - Virgo
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Libra

Erté - Libra
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Scorpio

Erté - Scorpio
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Erté Estée Lauder zodiac compact, Sagittarius

Erté - Sagittarius
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Erté was born Romain de Tirtoff in St. Petersburg and moved to Paris at the age of 20.  Adopting the French pronunciation of his initials as his artist's name, he initially worked as a costume designer for the opera and theater.  Erté was a talented illustrator in his own right, but it was his work for Harper's Bazaar that catapulted him to fame among fashion and theater insiders.  His cover art for the publication, 240 covers in all between 1915 and 1937, had an immediate and long-lasting (albeit cyclical) impact on the fashion industry.  He was somewhat ignored by the art world until the late 1960s when they was a resurgence of interest in his work.  That faded again until his death in 1990, then resurfaced full-force in 2004 when a gallery in London held the most comprehensive exhibition of his work since 1967.  Consisting of 75 of Erté's best pieces, the show included his famous alphabet series, which had never been exhibited in its entirety (the artist had began working on it in 1927 and did not complete it until 1967). The series was to be sold as one piece, with an asking price of £2 million.  The 2004 exhibition and ensuing craze for Erté's work also explains why Estée Lauder chose to release their Erté compacts then. Erté's work is still quite popular today, as a recent exhibition at the Met and upcoming exhibition at the Hermitage demonstrate. 

The Financial Times has an excellent summary of Erté's life and influence, which you can check out here.  There's also this informative article from the New York Times and some general articles on Art Deco design (Erté is known as the father of this style)1.  Right now though I want to show you some of Erté's other work, as it's truly dazzling.  The man loved taking on series - in addition to the alphabet, he covered everything from card decks to the 4 seasons to the 7 deadly sins. 

Here is one illustration from the Alphabet.  I think it's pretty obvious why I chose the letter G to highlight.  #mermaidsrule

Erté - Letter G

Number 3:

Erté - Number 3

He also illustrated each birthstone - here's Sapphire.  Both the Numerals series and the Precious Stones were originally produced as lithographs in 1968 and 1969, respectively.

Erté - Sapphire

And another mermaid for good measure.  I think this is my favorite Erté mermaid.  Between the shell and coral headdress, multiple fins and the fact that she's astride a seahorse and wielding a pearl-strung coral branch as a spear, she is possibly the fiercest yet chicest mermaid I've come across.  All hail warrior glam mermaid!  She represents water from Erté's The Four Elements series.

Erté - Water
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I felt as though I needed to include some examples of Harper's covers as well.  Some faves:

Erté - Harper's Bazaar cover, May 1919
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Erté - Harper's Bazaar cover, March 1926
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Erté - Harper's Bazaar cover, March 1934
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Finally, two makeup-related illustrations.

Erté - Compact Vanities

Erté - Makeup

Erté explains his work in a 1986 interview:  "It is different from everyone's...Art Deco is considered as the style of the 20th century.  I was always by myself. I was influenced only in my childhood, by the on Greek vases and by a book on Persian and Indian miniatures, because of the colors. At the age of 6 or 7, I found a book in my father's library of these miniatures, and every night after dinner, I wanted to look at it."  These miniatures in turn influenced his process.  He never used pencil or pen; instead, he painted with gouache using a tiny brush, sometimes with a single hair.  Equally impressive was his work ethic.  He worked right up until a few weeks before his death at the age of 97.  In one interview from 2 years before, when he was 95, he stated, "If I don't keep working, I would be bored to death."

Getting back to Estée Lauder, I seriously love these compacts.  From what I can tell in photos, the illustrations transferred nicely to a compact format (except I'm not crazy about the rhinestones...while I love me some bling I don't think they added anything to the design.)  Like Elgin's zodiac compacts, I feel a compulsive urge to collect them all!  I also think "warrior glam" could be the latest fashion trend. Let's try to make it a thing, shall we?

What are your thoughts on Erté's work and the Estée collab? 

1 There has been so much written about Erté I couldn't possibly fit it all into this post.  For further reading and eye candy check out the huge selection as Amazon.


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