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Pulp Fashion


Elegance from paper...

For fifteen years, the Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave has been producing an original body of work that is very well known in Europe. Her project has been to re-create exquisite, life-size historical costumes entirely from paper. She takes inspiration from the clothing depictions in early European paintings. These creations are not stringent copies of the originals: they are more like impressions.  However, she creates the look of fabric from white paper –painting the paper, making her own stencils, or drawing elaborate designs freestyle.

Isabelle de Borchgrave was present for the press day at the Legion of Honor museum, and took us on a tour of the show. The exhibit opens with a room made to look like the artist’s studio.  It shows several partially finished costumes. The artist says that she cuts the paper in a pattern for the dress and pins it to a mannequin. Then pattern pieces are painted (often in many layers for the right effect) and the pieces are glued – not sewn – together.

De Borchgrave passed around a sheet of the paper that she uses. It is a creamy white, about the thickness of wrapping paper, with a shiny side and a dull side. She has even created lace with paper -- lens-cleaning paper. She commented that it took her a long time to find somewhere that would sell her large pieces of that paper.

very, very readable.

Around 20 costumes adorn one of the rooms at the Legion of Honor, which are from her first show in 1994 called, “Papiers a la Mode”.  This grouping is largely inspired by the Kyoto Costume Institute publication Revolution in Fashion: European Clothing 1715-1815. In this collection are a beautiful black and white 1898 Worth gown and shoes!

Among the collection is a Empress Eugenie dress inspired by the 1856 painting Madame Moitesser by Jean-Auguste-Dominigue. The museum had a copy of painting near the costume to show how similar they looked. It is amazing how much the artist can make paper to look like 18th century fabric.

Another room was based on a show that Venice’s Museo Fortuny asked Isabelle de Borchgrave to create. De Borchgrave immediately decided that she wished to capture the totality of Fortuny’s oeuvre. 

The chair might be real....

You enter the room and your breath is taken away by the immense lens-paper tent with paper lanterns. It creates a completely different environment. The clothing is this room is either beautifully pleated or composed of exotic prints that are influenced by Asian, North African, and Renaissance motifs.

The next part of the exhibit couldn’t be contained by one room -- the Medicis were one of the most powerful families in Europe. Around 1519, the family began the tradition of commissioning formal portraits. Isabel de Borchgrave’s favorite Medici piece is the dress of Eleanora of Toledo as painted by Bronzino.

The museum had the painting displayed as well as the dress. Although the fabric was not an exact match, the ornamentation was fantastic.

All of the dresses in this period were richly ornamented with pearls and chains –which de Borchgrave made out of paper!  The lace collars were amazing!

There are 2 smaller rooms with some additional costumes, but I will leave some surprises for you!  There is also a video showing the artist in her studio in Belgium. Now that she is famous, she has art and fashion students from nearby colleges helping her.

This show is at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco from February 5 – June 5, 2011. http://legionofhonor.famsf.org/  

Admission is $15 adults, $12 seniors 65+, $11 youth 6-17 and college students.  The museum has produced a book, Pulp Fashion (hardback $29.95), which shows many of the costumes in detail.

As a costumer, I felt that this show was definitely worth seeing. The artist has taken paintings and imagined (with a thorough knowledge of costume) what the back and sides look like, rendering them in 3-D.  There is beautiful detail to be admired and to draw inspiration from.

Debbie Bretschneider

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