‘Pulp Fashion’ puts art of paper on the runway 

Wedding gowns, shoes and jewelry made of paper — what kind of paper would that be? Artist Isabelle de Borchgrave uses simple materials in her creations: pattern paper for the base and tissue paper for frills.

Helped by a team, the Belgian artist shapes, crumples, pleats, braids, feathers and paints the paper into stunning fashions, which are not ready-to-wear. Her “installations” go into museums around the world.

The first major retrospective of her work, “Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave,” is on view through June 5 at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. It follows her smaller “Papier á la Mode” collection seen in London, Toronto, Japan, Istanbul and Brazil.

Unlike the passing phase of 1960s paper shifts, Borchgrave’s creations are elaborate works of art. She re-creates gowns from historical paintings in three dimensions.

Examples include the Renaissance finery of the Medici family, gowns worn by Elizabeth I and Marie-Antoinette, and creations by grand couturiers such as Frederick Worth, Paul Poiret, Christian Dior and Coco Chanel.

The Medici is the most spectacular series, featuring elaborate velvet, needlework lace, ropes of pearls and intricate coiffures transformed into paper sculpture.

For de Borchgrave, Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871–1949) is of special interest, especially with his brightly colored pleated gowns.

The exhibit includes four new installations inspired by paintings in the Legion: Massimo Stanzione, “Woman in Neapolitan Costume” (1635); Konstantin Makovsky, “The Russian Bride’s Attire” (1889); Jacob-Ferdinand Voet, “Anna Caffarelli Minuttiba” (1675); and Anthony van Dyck, “Marie Claire de Cory and Child” (1634). The paintings are in the European Collection, one floor above “Pulp Fashion.”

More than 60 of de Borchgrave’s  works make up the  show, which also includes an artist’s studio that provides insight into de Borchgrave’s creative process.

On the commercial side, de Borchgrave designs partyware for Target stores, including place cards, chair covers, plates, centerpieces and serving bowls, all made of paper.

At the high end is a veil she made for the princess marrying Prince Carlos de Bourbon last fall.

The artist’s career had a turning point 17 years ago, through New York’s two famed Metropolitans. Following a performance of “La traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera, with sets and costumes designed by fellow Belgian Thierry Bosquet, she was taken to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she gained unprecedented access to 18th- and 19th-century costumes. Having examined their fabrics, seams and construction, de Borchgrave was launched on her extraordinary career in paper.


Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave

Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave., San Francisco

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes June 5

Tickets: $12 to $15

(415) 750-3600, www.legion ofhonor.org

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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