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Isabelle de Borchgrave's paper fashion at The Frick Pittsburgh

The collection is intoxicating, vibrantly colored and engages with its cultivated minutiae

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Costume of the Princess of Condé - CP PHOTO: MAGGIE WEAVER
  • CP photo: Maggie Weaver
  • Costume of the Princess of Condé

Isabelle de Borchgrave's new installation at the Frick Pittsburgh, Fashioning Art From Paper, celebrates the way the art and fashion worlds intersect, interact, and overlap. 

De Borchgrave started working with fashion in the 1960s, painting on silk and designing clothes from the fabric. A visit to The Metropolitan Museum of art in 1994 catalyzed de Borchgrave's fascination with paper art. When she returned to her studio in Brussels, exploring fashion through paper art became her focus. 

De Borchgrave’s collection documents 300 years of fashion history, each piece a personal interpretation of design. 

The collection lights up The Frick. When visitors step in the door, four works appear to float in the round room. These lively pieces introduce the energetic installation. As Director Robin Nicholson puts it, the collection “brings light to a gloomy day.”

De Borchgrave's use of color is breathtaking. The first pieces in the exhibit are bright red, orange, and stark black, the wild colors conflicting and contrasting with the clean, polished lobby. 

Even without the vibrant colors, the works would be striking. The clothing is crafted with a meticulous, innovative eye. De Borchgrave crumples, paints, pleats, and manipulates paper, creating life-size, realistic art. Paper with thin, transparent fibers is used for softer fabrics, finely painted or decorated with paper lace. Pearls made from paper balls decorate the necks of gowns. No detail is too small for her careful consideration, including shoes, paper hair flowing from a cap, or notches on a belt. 

Fashioning Art From Paper is woven into The Frick’s permanent collection. Transitioning between rooms is seamless, from the color of the walls to the interplay of painting and clothing, it feels like a conversation between art and fashion. It's situated nearly-chronologically, beginning with fashion from pre-French Revolution, moving through Victorian-era gowns to early 20th century dresses. 

Clothing based on the Medici family - THE FRICK PITTSBURGH
  • The Frick Pittsburgh
  • Clothing based on the Medici family

Each work shows appreciation to a culture, era, or artist. A small collection of Kaftans line the walls, de Borchgrave’s tribute to Asian textiles. Trips to Florence inspired de Borchgrave's interpretation of the Italian Renaissance, clothing based on the Medici family, which are some of de Borchgrave’s most elaborate works. The room exudes a sense of power, chicken-wire forms dressed in rigid collars, bold colors, and ornate jewelry. The centerpiece in this room is a commissioned piece, paired with an oil portrait by Peter Paul Rubens. De Borchgrave recreated the costume of the Princess of Condé, the subject of Rubens’ painting. The dress, ruby red, laden with gold embellishments and a fierce collar, stands as a permanent feature beside the portrait.  

Power turns whimsical in de Borchgrave’s interpretation of costumes Les Ballet Russes. The costumes seem to dance, suspended and spinning. Les Ballet Russes was a sensation in early 20th century Paris and became a hub for creators such as Picasso, Bakst, and Matisse. The absurd designs bring a playfulness to the collection, the exaggerated shapes and comical appearance showing de Borchgrave’s imagination. 

The installation includes a “touch this” table. All of the paper is treated by de Borchgrave, ready to use for her art. Her obsession with detail is clear in the uneven, hand-pleated paper. The material is as soft and ornate as fabric. 

De Borchgrave’s collection is intoxicating. She turns art into fashion, imitating reality, responding to her world with an unconventional material. 

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