Tuesday, August 14, 2012


(Florentine gown worn by Eleanora of Toledo, as interpreted by Isabelle de Borchgrave)

There's no doubt about it.

It's more than a little scary and beyond bold for an art lover to write about an art exhibit she has never seen.

But that's exactly what I'm going to do.

That's because I've got a feeling deep in my bones that Countess Isabelle de Borchgrave is an artist wildly deserving of that leap of faith.

Oh so many years ago, Isabelle fell in love with pencil drawing as a little girl in Belgium.

She treated every surface in her room as a canvas.

Even her walls and floors were not off limits.

As a teen, she studied at the Centre des Arts Decoratifs and the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels where she created, among other things, drawings of still lifes and model figures.

Later, she diversified her interests and began making clothes for friends.

Eventually, she opened her own design studio where she created dresses, scarves, and jewelry for a larger audience of buyers.

Isabelle's true love was fabric design and that was the common thread that ran through each of her artistic creations.

Then one fateful day – like most art lovers on the planet – she stepped inside the beloved halls of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Inside the Met, Isabelle began to imagine a new world of period costumes.

But this time things were different.

Isabelle did not dream up costumes made of fabric as one would properly expect from this creative genius.

No, Isabelle's newest line of costume dresses would, instead, be made of paper.

That's right.


Before long, Isabelle began work on four collections of painted, paper, period costumes.

Her first collection, “Paper in Fashion,” examined 300 years of fashion history – everything from Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel.

Next, she delved into the fashion culture of 19th century Venice with a collection entitled “Mariano Fortuny.”

Her third collection, “I Medici,” brought Renaissance fashion to life by displaying prominent Florentine aristocrats in their pearls, silks, velvets and sumptuous gold braiding.

(Costume of Anna de' Medici as interpreted by Isabelle) 

(Costume of Isabella de' Medici as interpreted by Isabelle)

Finally, “Ballets Russes” highlighted the talents of Pablo Picasso and Henry Matisse who designed costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's Russian ballet company.

Then, in 1998, Isabelle's mind blowing talents hit the big time when her exhibition, “Papier a la Mode,” toured France, the United States and Asia.

“The New York Times” called this popular paper costume review “pure delight.”

As the exhibition traveled, Isabelle continued to create new costume designs – all in paper - for some of history's most illustrious fashion leaders:

Queen Elizabeth of England,

Marie Antoinette of France,

and the Empress Eugenie, consort of Napoleon III,

to name a few.

Oh, I should tell you that Isabelle managed to knock out a a few Ottoman kaftans in paper while the exhibit was planted in Turkey.

This, my friends, is not a woman who lets dust gather under her feet!

Speaking through the “Daily Telegraph,” Isabelle talked about her commission for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.

She said: “Jackie Kennedy's wedding gown was dusty and fragile, wrapped up in black tissue paper. The silk was dead, you couldn't touch it any more. It was preserved like a relic. The original is dead, but the paper copy I created brings it back to life.”

Here's my favorite factoid about Isabelle:

In 2004, Isabelle designed and fashioned a painted paper dress for Queen Fabiola of Belgium. The queen actually wore this gown to the wedding of Prince Felipe of Spain in Madrid!

How does this mega-talented woman use paper and paint to fashion a gown?

The beginning of Isabelle's creative process starts with sheets of paper which measure approximately three by five feet.

Next, she gathers a large collection of brushes and paints and places them on a ginormous linen covered table in her studio.

Then she goes to work painting her paper masterpieces.

“The New York Times” makes the following comment about Isabelle's creative process:

“Her colors are very much inspired by her travels: reds from the roses of Turkey, earth hues from Egypt, blues from Greece...de Borchgrave produces astonishing effects of scintillating color, weight, transparency and texture. Her renderings of diaphanous gauzes are especially astonishing.”

In 2008, a beautifully illustrated book entitled: “Paper Illusions: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave” was published in America.

Within just a few weeks, “The New York Times” said the book was “one of the best gift books published in 2008.”

It the book's introduction, world renowned fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy, says:

“Isabelle is one of a kind; with a single sheet of paper, she creates the most beautiful dresses, the finest costumes, or, simply, a chain of white roses...whether it becomes a shoe, a hat or a few strings of pearls, Isabelle transforms paper the way a musical virtuoso plays an instrument.”

High praise, indeed.

So without further adieu, I bring you three concluding photos of Eleanora's breathtaking ensemble as it was envisioned by Isabelle de Borchgrave.


 (Eleanora's gown in all its frontal splendor)

 (The posterior view)

(Eleanora's pearl headdress and necklace)


Much of the information in this blog was gleaned from Wikipedia.

Some of the photographs were taken from the book: “Paper Illusions: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave.”

And finally, Eleanora's stunning Renaissance gown was inspired by a portrait painted by Bronzino which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

I reviewed this very painting in an earlier blog on January 9, 1012.

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