Fashion & Beauty

Paper Couture: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave

October 9, 2018


JUST IMAGINE the intricacies involved in creating an 18th-century ball gown with its reams of ribbons and layers of lace, or the masterful pleats of a Fortuny evening ensemble. Then think about making them in paper.

Which is just what Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave has been doing since the mid-1990s. Almost 100 of her trompe l’oeil works are on display in a retrospective, “Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art From Paper” at the Frick Pittsburgh until January 6, 2019.

De Borchgrave brings fabric to life with ordinary paper, making us believe we’re seeing lace, brocade, silk, taffeta and embroidery through cutting, gluing and using a mix of acrylic paint, ink and metallic powder.  In her Brussels studio, she directs a staff, each one specializing in a part of a costume’s creation, whether building a wire structure, painting the ground colors, crafting jewelry or cutting trimmings.

As a child her first medium was paper, which she was able to use freely and cut up without fear of ruining anything precious. On museum visits with her mother, she discovered dresses through paintings and learned that she liked shape, sculpture, color and intricate details. She eventually went on to work in advertising, fashion and interior design. But it wasn’t until a 1994 visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and a Yves Saint Laurent exhibit that she had the brainstorm to create her own fashion-meets-fantasy works in paper.

The exhibition will feature examples from all the artist’s major series, including “Papiers à la Mode,” tracking 300 years of fashion history and “The World of Mariano Fortuny,” honoring the legacy of the Spanish designer. The one new piece is one the museum commissioned her to make—a paper dress inspired by the Frick’s “Portrait of Charlotte—Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Conde” by Peter Paul Rubens.

Admission to the museum is free for Frick members; $15 for adult nonmembers, $13, seniors 62 and older, students and members of the military, $8 for ages 6-16, free for children 5 and younger.  Hours are Tuesday through Sunday 10am-5pm, Friday, 10am-9pm. Address: The Frick is located at 7227 Reynolds St., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 412-371-0600.

The exhibition has been organized by the Frick Pittsburgh in collaboration with four other American museums: Dixon Gallery and Gardens, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the Society of the Four Arts and Artis-Naples and The Baker Museum. 

—Janet Kelly


2 thoughts on “Paper Couture: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave

  1. Barbara says:

    Beautiful, fantastic, and amazing that they are made from paper. I applaud the creator.

  2. Kate Perrin says:

    I adored her work when I got to see the exhibit here at Hillwood a few year’s ago. Enchanting!

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