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Isabelle de Borchgrave

Isabelle de Borchgrave, “Maria de’Medici” (2007), 70 by 48 ½ by 40 inches


Haute Couture

By Jesse Bratter

Photo courtesy of The Society of the Four Arts


The Society of the Four Arts presents "Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art From Paper."

Mariano Fortuny. Paul Poiret. Charles Frederick Worth. They’re historical fashion icons, and their influences on couture are all currently being represented at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach through April 15. But not in the way you might think. It’s actually the work of Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave that has the spotlight thanks to the traveling exhibition Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art From Paper. Spanning centuries, she’s created interpretations, in full scale, of the iconic garments worn by the likes of Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour in her Papiers à la Mode series; Grecian-style dresses and tunics from the early 20th century with her collection The World of Mariano Fortuny; interpretations of costumes designed by Léon Bakst, Giorgio de Chirico, Pablo Picasso and others in Les Ballets Russes; the Kaftans series, which pays homage to the textiles traded along the Silk Road; and Splendor of the Medici, highlighting the cultural contributions of the 15th-century Italian family. She was also asked to create a gown inspired by Peter Paul Rubens’ Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, circa 1610, and it’s on view at the Four Arts, along with the original portrait.

Within the exhibit, viewers will find intricate gold braiding, delicate pearls, elaborate ruffles, sumptuous silks and soft velvets. Or at least you’ll think that’s what it is. But each dress is actually a sculpture made entirely of painted trompe l’oeil papers. “Isabelle de Borchgrave’s work reflects her playful imagination and skill as a painter,” says Dennita Sewell, The Jacquie Dorrance Curator of Fashion Design at the Phoenix Art Museum and guest curator for this exhibit, along with Four Arts Executive Vice President and curator Nancy Mato. “She has selected works from the best fashion collections in the world and some of the most iconic paintings.

Combined, they form a compelling history of costume that spans more than 400 years. Isabelle’s work has a whimsical quality that brings the characters and historic dress to life. And visitors will be surprised that each piece is actually only made of paper!” 

Organized by Dixon Gallery & Gardens with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, The Society of the Four Arts, Frick Art & Historical Center, and Artis—Naples at The Baker Museum, the Palm Beach show is one of five stops along a North American tour. Fashion lovers will want to rush over to take a guided or audio tour, as de Borchgrave’s work is rarely seen in the United States. And on the heels of Paris Fashion Week, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.