From The Archive: Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Fashion History in Paper

This was originally posted by Heather Vaughan on January 19th, 2011. The post explores Isabelle de Borchgrave’s exhibition and her work as a means of dealing with the impermanence of fashion.

Opening February 5, and running through June 5, 2011, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Legion of Honor will play host to the work of paper artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. What visitors will see at Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave is not any kind of typical wearable fashion made out of paper – but something more. These special pieces seem to be historical studies, precise replicas based on extant garments, paintings, photographs, sketches and in some instances, literary references. The exhibit includes a heavy dose of reproductions of Fortuny, Poiret, and Chanel as well as Dior, Marie Antoinnette, and the Medici’s.

It is an ideal melding of art, academia and fashion, resulting in beautiful three-dimensional objects that are–much like fashion– impermanent.

The image on the left, and above, are by Isabelle de Borchgrave “Eleanor of Toledo (1522–1562), 2006” Inspired by Eleonora di Toledo with Her Son Giovanni (ca. 1545) by Agnolo Bronzino, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florance (pictured above on the right). Photo: René Stoeltie (via Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco).

As a student at New York University, one of my favorite slides (yes, the professor used actual slides) was a painting by Agnolo Bronzino of Eleanor of Toledo (1522–1562). We learned that her sumptuous clothing reflected the importance of her wealth (it is an incredibly expensive textile of cut velvet, voided and brocaded), her station (as the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici she employed her own private weavers), as well as its imporance in the history of the textile trade (the Medici’s had a Papal monopoly on Alum). It is rumored that Eleanor of Toledo was so fond of this gown, that she was buried in it. (For more, see Joe A. Thomas’ article “Fabric and Dress in Bronzino’s Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo and Son Giovanni”, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 1994).

It is the importance of this piece to fashion history scholars, that induces me to appreciate de Borchgrave’s work and attention to detail. Her reproductions are the closest modern day viewers can possibly come to seeing this, and other important fashions, in a three-dimensional form.

Isabelle de Borchgrave and studio collaborators at work on a piece inspired by Agnolo Bronzino’s portrait of Eleanor of Toledo, 2006. Photo: Courtesy Créations Isabelle de Borchgrave. (via Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco).

Coincidentally, Bronzino: Artist and Poet of the Medici Court is on view at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence until January 23, 2011 which includes the portrait of Eleanora of Toledo. For those unable to make the trip, the UK, newspaper, The Guardian has a review by James Hall. The Palazzo also happens to have an abbreviated online version of the exhibition in English here.

Want More? Visit the exhibition or check out these two books of de Borchgrave’s creations, and be sure to have a look at the brief video/interview with de Borchgrave below:

Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle De Borchgrave (Feb. 2011)

Paper Illusions: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave (2008)

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