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  • Writer's pictureIldiko

Paper Couture! 👗🩰

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

It was with EXCEPTIONAL care and calculation that a large legion of paper dresses descended on Louisville. Their destination? Louisville, Kentucky's renowned Speed Art Museum. EACH paper apparel emerged from its own customized, individual crate in an awe-inspiring fashion. A colorful and delicate 'army' of LIFE-SIZED costumes infiltrated the gallery and set up its temporary camp on its entire 3rd floor. So, who created these "paper dresses" and why are they so special? How long will they lay siege to the Speed Art Museum?

The army of costumes was created by Isabelle de Borchgrave, a Belgian artist who fashions art from PAPER. Her collections impressively intersect art, history, and fashion. In 1994 she began designing ELABORATE paper costumes and has since created four series, each with a unique theme. Her illusions are not only BOLD, BRIGHT, and LIFE-SIZED, but they actually fool your eyes, artistically referred to as trompe l'oeil, allowing you to "feel" the fabric purely by sight! Her painted paper-only "fabrics" distinguish luxurious textures of fine silk, shimmery velvet, soft fur, delicate lace, smooth satin, coarse leather, among many others. De Borchgrave achieves her brilliant results using only simple papers and some paint. Not surprisingly, her most common type of paper is an inexpensive Belgian paper (the kind that Belgian chocolatiers use to wrap their chocolate bars!) A sizable sampling of each of her four collections is currently on display at the gallery.

Papiers à la Mode

This is her first collection showcasing 300 years of fashion from Elizabeth I to Coco Channel. Her pieces are inspired by, but not copies of, period costumes worn by historical figures in paintings or iconic figures in photographs. The details, such as the pleating, bustles, laces, collars, cuffs, and bows are astounding. All from paper!

Mariano Fortuny

This, her second collection, displays the aura of late 19th - early 20th century Venice. The Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny, together with his French designer wife, created the Delphos dress. Delphos dresses are finely pleated silk gowns produced during the first half of the 20th century, as shown in the photos below. They were inspired by and named after a bronze Greek statue, the Charioteer of Delphi, from 470 BC. Fortuny approached his work as a painter but used silk as his medium.

In this series, De Borchgrave was inspired by Fortuny's Delphos dresses. Indulge your senses in the delicate pleats, the damasks, and silks. The curve-hugging bodices are draped with a decorated Knossos shawl, an Indian sari wrap, a silk surcoat, or a velvet robe. And, all from paper!

I Medici

Her third collection showcases the glory of the Florentine Renaissance from 500 years ago. Rich with the wealth of the Medici's, this series features costumes from the Renaissance. Gold braiding, pearls, luxurious silks, and velvets are abundant. After studying paintings by the many Renaissance artists at the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi's 'Chapel of the Magi,' De Borchgrave became inspired to extract the figures from the paintings and sculpt them from paper in her own creative style. Her elaborate apparel sculptures are not only textured, but detailed with shoes, jewelry, and accessories.

The two lovely ladies below were both inspired by Sandro Botticelli paintings from Florence's Uffizi Gallery. The first from Primavera and the second from Pallas and the Centaur.

Next, enter the Medici clan ... from Cosimo I to Lorenzo il Magnifico to several wives, mistresses, and kids (both legitimate and illegitimate), all sporting their finery. Yes, from paper!

Les Ballets Russes

In her final collection, de Borchgrave pays tribute to The Ballets Russes, the famous traveling ballet company based in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929. Sergei Diaghilev brought a group of Russian dancers, artists, choreographers, designers, and composers to Paris to showcase the talent of Russian artists of that time. In Paris, he collaborated with European artists and composers, as well. Despite the troupe's name, the touring dance company never performed in Russia, as the Revolution occurring at that time resulted in great social upheaval. This series by De Borchgrave highlights the costumes of the dancers and pays homage to master painters, such as Picasso and Matisse, who designed for the ballet company. This collection is particularly jovial, eccentric, and light-hearted. In case you are wondering, all from paper!

This colorful brigade of costumes, currently at The Speed, secures well-stamped passports as they have traveled extensively from Belgium to Switzerland, France, the UK, Japan, Brazil, and the USA since 1998. The Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper exhibition can be viewed in Louisville until August 22, 2021. It is a fantastic exhibition and should certainly be on YOUR itinerary if passing through or visiting Louisville, Kentucky.



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