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Isabelle de Borch Grave

Isabelle de Borch Grave

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Published by belgianwaffling

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Published by: belgianwaffling on Dec 07, 2012
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12/07/2012

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december 2012
42
 
FLY TO
brussels
from 50 european destinations.
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cut-out couture
december 2012
43
here’s a surface calm in Isabelle de Borchgrave’sBrussels studio – a peaceful, light filled space withfat koi carp swimming languidly in a pool in theleafy garden. However, when you look more closely,it’s a hum of intense and industrious activity.People are measuring, cutting and painting, heads bowedover two long tables. A man adds embellishments to avase and two women apply a delicate pattern of gold paint toa length of drapery. Overlooking it all from the second-floorgallery are rows of mannequins dressed in the outfits thatmade Isabelle famous: delicate pastel crinolines, vivid folkcostumes from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Renaissancepages in brocade tunics. And all of them, everything, made ofpaper. The plain white rolls are here too, propped against thewalls and awaiting a credibility-defying transformation.In the middle of it all is de Borchgrave herself, a busy,diminutive figure in a navy fisherman’s sweater with asuspicion of paint around the cuffs, looking far youngerthan her 66 years. She darts across the studio, pausing togive instructions, conferring and appraising. When we sitdown in her library, packed to the rafters with art and historybooks, she thrums with barely suppressed impatienceto get back to work: it’s just days before the opening ofher new exhibition, and there’s plenty still to do.The exhibition,
Fortuny by Isabelle de Borchgrave: A World of Paper
, is ambitious: less a straight tribute to thefin-de-siècle couturier than a sensory journey through hisimagination. As well as around 40 extraordinary replicasof Fortuny’s dresses, it echoes his travels and influences,with scents and music from North Africa and Asia, as well
t
On the eve of a major exhibition celebrating the work of 18th-century couturierMariano Fortuny, Isabelle de Borchgrave – the Belgian designer famed for her exquisitepaper creations – talks to
Emma Beddington
about the passions that drive herPhotography
Natalie Hill
 
cut-out couture
as kilims, kimonos and cushions. There’s even a tiny caféserving oriental pâtisseries and a yurt where younger visitorscan design their own creations. It’s a joyful blast of colourand excitement in wintry Brussels. As de Borchgravedescribes it all, her enthusiasm is infectious. “Fortuny lookedlike crazy at everything, and that passion is what interestsme. It’s going to be very playful, very fun. It will make peoplethink.” Visitors will be able to touch samples of paper, pickup a paintbrush and watch a video of the studio at work.“Sometimes I stand at the exits to my exhibitions andI listen to visitors as they leave, and what I love is hearingthem say: ‘Let’s go home and make a dress’ or ‘I could dothat’. That’s wonderful. This exhibition is going to inspirepeople, create vocations.”Her own vocation manifested itself early: as a child, deBorchgrave would cover her bedroom walls with drawings,then her mother would paint over them and the processwould start again. “I left school at 14. I was a pretty lacklustrestudent, and all I wanted to do was draw and paint. I wasfascinated by the Flemish primitives – the details, the lace.”After a stint at the Centre des Arts Décoratifs in Brussels,she opened a tiny studio, taking interior design commissionsand gradually building a reputation as a decorative artist. In1994, a visit to the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at theMetropolitan Museum of Art in New York planted the ideaof creating paper dresses. In 1998, her
Papiers à la Mode
exhibition of paper creations – ranging from the Renaissanceperiod to Coco Chanel’s work – opened to huge critical
Details,above: de Borchgrave’s Brussels workshopis now open for tours by appointment.Right: abeautiful hand-made dress from the designer’sforthcoming Mariano Fortuny exhibitionPrevious page: Isabelle de Borchgrave in her studio
 
FLY TO
brussels
from 50 european destinations.
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december 2012
44
 
december 2012
46
 
FLY TO
brussels
from 50 european destinations.
brusselsairlines.com
cut-out couture
acclaim, showing in Paris, New York, Istanbul and beyond.Since then, de Borchgrave seems barely to have drawnbreath. There have been exhibitions and private commissionsworldwide, commercial projects (she has designed tablewarefor Target and ceramics for Gien) and historical collaborations– from working at Florence’s Palazzo Medici Riccardi tocreating a paper replica of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding gownfor Boston’s John F Kennedy Library and Museum.What was it, I wonder, that captivated her imagination inpaper couture? “What interests me in a piece of clothing ishow it moves in space. It’s not fashion, really, it’s sculpture.It’s also a way of breathing life back into a garment. A BalletsRusses costume is something a dancer has sweated in,suffered in, slippers that have hurt his feet. It’s fascinating,but it’s sad. I like the idea of letting these things live again,giving them a present and a future.”A team of between 12 and 15 work with Isabelle in thestudio daily, each bringing their own particular technical andartistic expertise to the process of making paper look likesilk, velvet and organza. The famous Fortuny pleats provedparticularly tricky: de Borchgrave’s eyes sparkle as sherelates a challenge that she obviously relished.“At first we tried to do our own folding, then we sprayed itwith water to get a softer effect, but the dress dissolved…Eventually we had to use machine pleating, then we had tofold the paper the other way to get that silk texture. It’s akind of trickery, an illusion, what I do. We use colour anddifferent effects to create that impression of cloth.”
Bottom left and top right: Only whende Borchgrave’s creations are viewedclosely in detail does the viewer realisethat they are in fact constructed frompaper. Top left: one of the exquisitedresses from the Fortuny exhibiton.Right: the Belgian designer’s homageto the classic rain mac
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