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Queen Elizabeth I court dress. Paper rendering by Isabelle de Borchgrave. Photo: Andrew Fox

Good news for slow pokes who haven’t yet made it to Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco – the popular exhibit has been extended through June 12th.  A cross between art and fashion history, Pulp Fashion features over 60 historical costumes made entirely of paper by Belgian artist, Isabelle de Borchgrave.

de Borchgrave is a trained painter with a fondness for textiles. In 1994 she began using paper to recreate costumes from early European paintings. The Legion of Honor is the first U.S. museum to host a retrospective of de Borchgrave’s work.

The exhibit was curated by Jill D’Alessandro and is divided into six rooms each housing different themes of de Borchgrave’s work covering 400 years of fashion including: 

  • Renaissance costumes
  • 18th century costumes
  • historical figures
  • examples of 20th century designers Worth, Poiret, Dior, Chanel

And one room is devoted to the Spanish designer and artist Mariano Fortuny.

In addition, de Borchgrave has created especially for this exhibit four costumes inspired by paintings from the Legion of Honor permanent collection.

Detail of Queen Elizabeth I Court dress. Paper rendering by Isabelle de Borchgrave. Photo: Andrew Fox

de Borchgrave uses plain pattern paper that she stencils and/or paints with acrylic ink and shapes into clothing. (For lace she uses lens cleaning paper.) She says she uses paper for its simplicity and purity.

Her craftmanship is impressive to say the least and in photographs de Borchgrave’s paper costumes appear real, however, in person they look like what they are – artistic renderings of clothing.  This is worth noting as the paper medium highlights certain qualities of the costumes that fabric might not. For example, the images on Queen Elizabeth I court dress are more striking than its voluminous shape and the detail of a cord belt or a line of slender buttons on a Fortuny tunic catches the eye more so than the famous pleats. Given that we are looking at paper rather than fabric, we are looking more closely and differently, therefore perhaps finding new things.

Well spaced and placed in imaginative settings, the exhibit offers the opportunity to view the pieces up close. Most are visible at all angles, but for the few that aren’t, mirrors would have been a helpful addition. There are panels with information and a video showing de Borchgrave at work, however, the museum has run out of brochures, which would have been handy to refer to while touring the exhibit. (There is a catalog and other books on de Borchgrave available in the museum gift shop.)

Pulp Fashion is worth a visit to experience historical costumes come to life in an unexpected medium. Bring a group of friends along for a post visit discussion.

Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle Borchgrave runs now through June 12th at the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave., SF.

Click here for more scoop.

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