One of the highlights of my six years living in Brussels, Belgium was meeting a local artist who creates beautiful costumes and dresses out of paper. But don’t think of those generic and tabbed two-dimensional paper doll frocks from our youth; far from it. Using history as her muse, Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave weaves a creator’s eye with fashion flair to manipulate, pleat and paint simple rag paper and transform it into magnificent gowns and costumes worthy of a Venetian carnival or royal wedding.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when only a few months after I returned to San Francisco, de Borchgrave’s first U.S. exhibition, Pulp Fashion, landed here too, at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The exhibit opened on February 5, 2011 and will run until June 5, 2011.
De Borchgrave is well known throughout Europe and her paintings and painted fabrics have embellished private homes and hotels throughout the continent. But it was an exhibit of life-size paper gowns showcased at the Fortuny Museum in Venice in 2008 that would set de Borchgrave on the path to the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Turns out that John Buchanan, director of the San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums, saw that exhibit in Venice too and was later serendipitously seated next to de Borchgrave at a dinner in Russia, where she had been creating costumes for the Russian Ballet.
“Hers was one of the most beautiful art installations I had ever seen,” said Buchanan. “I knew I wanted to bring her work to San Francisco.”
Pulp Fashion unfolds the distinct talent of de Borchgrave through a display of more than 60 paper perfections, tracing history—from the Renaissance finery of the Medici family (the most elegant period in fashion according to de Borchgrave) and Elizabeth I and Marie-Antoinette, to the recreation of haute couturiers such as Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, whose work de Borchgrave greatly admires.
“I wanted to tell a story from the past,” said de Borchgrave of her exhibit. “And if you have the curiosity and the eyes to look at the past in a different way, you have so much.” And now we do too, thanks to de Borchgrave and her palpable passion for bringing paper to life. Tickets can be reserved online at www.legionofhonor.famsf.org.
Kimberley Lovato is a freelance travel writer and author based in San Francisco.