Dancers' costumes from Twenties night-club shows, by a peerless theatrical designer, are to be sold at Christie's, reports John Windsor
A unique collection of exotic topless costumes by the French designer Erte, worn in floor shows in Paris nightclubs in the Thirties, is for sale at Christie's South Kensington next week.

Erte - real name Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990) - was the most famous theatre and fashion designer of his day. His scanty costumes, with sequins, coloured ostrich plumes and imaginative appendages, were designed to amaze and amuse middle-class Parisians. But for British tourists in our grandfathers' day, they epitomised the naughtiness of gay Paree.

The 22 lots in this lovingly preserved collection, "the property of a gentleman", were mostly worn by women performers at the Bal Tabarin in Montmartre. The night-club's owner, Pierre Sandrini, was the son of the prima ballerina Emma Sandrini. He introduced ballet to his floor shows, and Erte's designs transformed them into spectacular tableaux.

There was a new show every year, each with a theme, such as The Planets or The Symphony; some were inspired by historical figures such as Cleopatra and Madame de Pompadour.

In the sale, two lots of leopard and tiger costume pieces, with tall headdresses, flowing trains and padded tails - but nothing to cover the torso - are estimated at pounds 150-pounds 200.

There are 10 halter-necked body stockings from Metal, one of the most successful Thirties ballets. They are densely embroidered with gold and pink sequins in the form of cogs. The same lot includes eight bodices with simulated pearls, trimmed with ostrich feathers, and a collection of undergarments including a novelty bra in the form of a cat's head. The estimate is pounds 100-pounds 200.

All the costumes in the sale are still wearable: most of them are sizes 10 and 12. A Ceres costume with simulated ears of wheat, for The Planets of 1937, is estimated at pounds 150-pounds 200, and flowing capes with wave designs from La Mer, also 1937, pounds 700-pounds 800. A lyre costume with a platform waist and tassels, dated as late as 1945, is estimated at pounds 150-pounds 200.

Erte's long career spanned designing costumes for Mata Hari in 1913 to designing costumes and sets for Glyndebourne's Der Rosenkavalier in 1980. The revealing costumes to be auctioned give no hint that he was the creator of unisex fashion in 1926. But he was.

The Erte costumes will be lots 79-100 in Christie's South Kensington's sale of fine costume and needlework, Tuesday, 2pm, at 85 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 (0171-581 7611).

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