Pret-a-papier: Isabelle de Borchgrave’s fantasy collection

19.06.2012
Paper dress designed by Isabelle de Borchgrave

Pretty in pink

I’ve been in a Marie Antoinette state of mind the past few days. Between Ann Romney’s adventures in dressage and the president’s fundraiser chez Sarah Jessica Parker, there’s a certain “let them eat cake” quality to American politics that’s curiously at odds with our economic times. (Or, perhaps, all too in sync with the vibe.)

So it’s no surprise that I found myself at the Hillwood Museum, viewing with astonishment and admiration the not-quite-wearable fashions of Belgian painter and trompe-l’oeil designer, Isabelle de Borchgrave.

With an eye for exquisite detail and historical accuracy, Mme de Borchgrave transforms ordinary paper into haute couture by “crumpling, pleating, braiding, painting” and decorating the surface to create the illusion of sumptuous textiles and styling, re-creating the silhouettes made famous by Peter the Great, Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour, Fortuny, les Ballets Russes, among others.  There are shoes, purses, hats, dressing gowns and, of course, the dresses themselves, which–even close up–do not betray their paper heritage. I loved them all.

Well known in the commercial art world through her work for Caspari and Villeroy & Boch, Prêt-à-papier (a play on “prêt-à-porter” or “ready to wear”) is de Borchgrave’s first exhibit of fine art in Washington, DC and Hillwood’s first exhibit of contemporary art. Six of the designs were created specifically for this show.

As the museum itself might say, the show is absolutely “fabulous.”

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