Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year Treat: Isabelle de Borchgrave

This afternoon I went into D.C. with my daughter to spend some time at the Hillwood Museum, the former residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post. While the house is sumptuous and all, the real reason for the visit was to take in their special exhibit of the works of Isabelle de Borchgrave.

I had seen this exhibit years ago in Toronto and remembered how amazing it was to see paper transformed into what looked like wearable garments. At Hillwood, the garments were spread out in the house and in one of the outbuildings. What was even better, some of the dresses had been commissioned to either copy or be inspired by some of the artwork in the mansion.

In the house, the only beef was that you couldn't really get close enough to the garments to really appreciate the details. But it's a minor quibble!

 These two Provence-style outfits were inspired by the tapestry behind them. It's hard to believe it but everything in these garments is paper, including the lace.

I loved this dress, mostly for the unusual darting in the bodice. 

This confection of a gown was in Mrs. Post's bedroom.

The dresses in the Adirondack House building were much more accessible; you could get really close to them (as long as you didn't touch... and there was a VERY attentive guard keeping watch!). In the bodice above, you can see jewels and buttons... all paper.

The textural effects were achieved by crumpling and ironing the paper multiple times, then painting details, then crumpling and ironing again, then forming the paper over the base form. In the visitor's center, there was a video playing of the process, but it was terribly pixilated and skipping so it was impossible to watch.

I can't imagine how long it took to create each one of these gowns. And how on Earth did they ship them?? Remember, these are not like real clothes that can be folded... They have to be crated and padded and very carefully placed.
 This was one dress I liked mostly for the details. The hem (below) was gorgeous. The glitter is all painted on!

 Here's the back side of the same dress. Notice the red "ribbons" going down the back. These start at roughly the hip line on the front, and are fastened to the bodice all the way to the shoulders. Then, from the shoulders down the back, they hang free. It was a lovely touch and one that begs to be copied in a real garment!

This was Diana's favorite: a Fortuny-pleated underdress with a sheer overdress.

A detail from the dress that I really liked was the beads spaced along the edge of the sheer overdress. Again, all paper. But in a real dress, beads such as this would give just enough weight to prevent the overdress from being too fly-away in the breeze.

 It's hard to see the details in this picture, but the red "fabric" has an extremely subtle tone-on-tone that is supposed to evoke a stamped velvet. The little side "wings" were also a neat touch; very 1920s.

Again, how did they transport something like this?!?

If you are in the D.C. area, I highly encourage you to visit the museum and see this exhibit, which runs through January 20. And if you've seen it, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


  1. I have not seen it, but I would love to-
    these are AMAZING!

  2. Wow... thank you so much for putting these pics up. I just absolutely loved all of them. The craftmanship is just outstanding. I would love to see it in person!


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