Born Roman Petrovich Tyrtov in St. Petersburg, in a large family whose roots go back to 1548, he draws at 5 his first costume, influenced by his mother "refined elegance" which inspired later in his images of "fatal and sinuous" women. He is also fascinated by Russian and Parisian fashion magazines that his mother was watching. His father, Admiral Pyotr Ivanovich Tyrtov, was expecting his son to continue the family tradition by becoming an officer in the navy. He first studied at the Academy of St. Petersburg and in the workshop of Ilja Iefimovich Repine (in 1906). He takes the pseudonyms of Pitch and Shooting and publishes sketches of fashion in the magazine Damskij mir.
In 1907, at the age of fifteen, he came to Paris and made some artistic essays for the masters in place, under the pseudonym Erte. He also created a silver-bronze sculpture, the "Demoiselle à la Balancelle", in the Art Nouveau style, which is printed in ten copies. He moved to Paris in 1910 and then to Boulogne-sur-Seine. In 1911, he took classes at the Académie Julian while making fashion drawings. In 1912, Romain de Tirtoff gets to be sent to Paris to learn the job of designer. He designed his first sets for the presentation of Oriental-style ball gowns for the great couturier Paul Poiret, then the sets for the play Le Minaret in 1913 for the theater director Jacques Richepin. His career is launched. He also draws in India ink for the Gazette du Bon Ton. In 1915, he won his first major contract, which lasted twenty-two years, with Harper's Bazaar magazine and then led to a brilliant career in costume design and stage design.