Born as Roman Petrovich Tyrtov in St. Petersburg, Russia, Romain de Tirtoff (pseudonym Erté, a French pronunciation of initials R.T.) he was the only son of an admiral in the Imperial Fleet. He was raised amidst Russia's social elite. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the Persian miniatures he found in his father's library. These exotic, brightly patterned designs continued to be important to him and influenced the development of his style.
He moved to Paris at the age of eighteen and took the name Erte. In 1915 he began his long relationship with Harper's Bazaar, during which time he created over 240 covers for the magazine. His fashion designs also appeared in many other publications, making him one of the most widely recognized artists of the 1920s. He also designed costumes and sets for the theater.
By far his best known image is 'Symphony in Black', depicting a tall, slender woman draped in black holding a thin black dog. This influential image has been reproduced and copied countless times.
In 1976 the French government awarded Erte the title of Officer of Arts and Letters, and in 1982 the Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris was bestowed upon him.
His work is in many prominent museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.