Kermit Westergaard, an interior designer, had come to SoHo from his home in the neighborhood where Greenpoint, Brooklyn, nudges up against Ridgewood, Queens, to attend a 110th anniversary retrospective of works by Erté, the “father of Art Deco,” at the Martin Lawrence Gallery. Westergaard, an affable, lightly balding man, seemed somewhat underdressed in comparison to the other gallery attendees, but clothes were in fact the purpose of his visit: from his mother, the theatrical producer Louise Westergaard, he had inherited twenty costumes designed by Erté. The garments are in a storage locker, and Westergaard hoped to find someone at the gallery who could put them to use. “I would rather have the drawings of the costumes than the costumes themselves,” he said, somewhat sadly. “I mean, what do you do with them?” He held a catalog of the costumes under his arm, and took it out to show me. They were exquisite, diva-worthy confections: stars and pearls and spiderwebbed dresses, halolike headpieces, cascading nets of rhinestones, and silver lamé. They brought to mind the sparse garb of the exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari, for whom, in fact, Erté had also designed, in 1913.
Stardust, the 1987 Broadway musical from which Westgaard’s collection comes—for which Matel also produced a special series of porcelain Barbies, all wearing Erté’s designs—was one of the artist’s final efforts before his death in 1990, at the age of ninety-seven. He was born Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (the name is usually Frenchified as Romain de Tirtoff) in Saint Petersburg in 1892. Read More