Looks good on paper: Oklahoma City Museum of Art to show Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave’s fashionable exhibit

A lifelong artist, de Borchgrave was inspired to begin creating paper costumes after a 1994 visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“If you love fabrics when you go to the museum and you see the collection of the Metropolitan … for me it’s like a painting, it’s a like a piece of art. And when you love that you want to try to understand it, how it’s woven,” she said. “My dress is not woven, but I can paint it like it is, give the spirit of it. … I give the impression of fabrics. It’s like your lace, if it’s white, it’s not completely white, because you have all the holes, you have all the detail. I can paint that in trompe l’œil completely, and you can see what it can be. It’s a challenge … and when you do one, you want to do another.”

Although a few of the lacy shawls draped over her Fortuny-inspired gowns are made from a sort of thin tissue paper, de Borchgrave said the majority of her works in the exhibit are created from painting, rolling, folding and otherwise manipulating the same ordinary white paper. But her meticulous costumes actually begin with thoroughly researching the original clothes she hopes to recreate.

“For the Ballet Russes (collection), I looked for a lot of costumes. I visit in Moscow, in St. Petersburg,” she said. “After I make some drawings, after I put the paper on the table, I have to choose the color to give the effect. Sometimes it’s more satin, sometimes it’s like a felt … or silk. I look and I try to find the effect through the color. When I find that, I paint all the paper … and after, there are people who cut the paper and put it together. For sure, I am next to them because I have to decide if it’s large enough or maybe too big or maybe too little. That’s like haute couture for all the dresses you can see in that exhibition.”

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The Brussels native continues to find the versatile medium as well as the diverse history of fashion inspirational. “Fashioning Art from Paper” includes a series of 11 caftans based on Silk Road textiles, but she said she hopes to continue to take her art along the ancient network of trade routes that connected East to West.

“I have a dream … but I need a lot of money for that because it’s a huge work. But I have a fantastic project around ‘My Fair Lady,’” she said, referring to the classic musical set in Edwardian London.

“The more you use the same medium, the more you find a new way to use it.”

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