Isabelle de Borchgrave is a Belgian artist, designer, and interior decorator who paints intricate patterns on paper to make jewelry, decor, artifacts, lamps and most famously trompe l’oeil clothing. Her gorgeous and elaborate paper dresses, gowns, and costumes are modeled after garments seen in European paintings or in museum collections from around the world. Her creations look as if they are made from satin, silk, velvet, tulle, or lace, but they are made entirely out of paper.
When she was 14 years old she decided to forego traditional school to study drawing. She spent the next three years sketching nude models at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Brussels and specialized in drawing and painting. She visited museums and developed an interest in fashion. She considers that her lack of formal training in fashion was an asset.
In the 1970s she created textile patterns for fabric producers and was known for her designs. When she started working with paper, the fashion world was first baffled but then impressed. She made hand-painted dresses for herself; later she made them for customers. In 1994, she visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw the retrospective for French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. This exhibit inspired her to think of the ways she could recreate certain designs on hand-painted paper.
The historical authenticity and beauty of her creations caused an overnight sensation when they were first shown in France as “Papiers a la Mode” her first sculpture series. To create this series, she collaborated with a theater costume designer to learn how to manipulate paper, paint, and glue to imitate historic fabrics and patterns.
Her elaborate gowns are appropriated from paintings of the Medici family in Florence during the Renaissance; Nicholas Hiliard’s portrait of the Queen Elizabeth I; Francois Boucher’s portrait of Madame de Pompadour; and collections of early 20th century modern couturiers such as the pleated and draped silk gowns of Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny. In addition, her “Kaftans” series was inspired by the Silk Road textiles of central Asia, and her “Les Ballets Russes” was based on the unconventional costumes worn by the dancers of the Ballets Russes founded in 1909.
Her “Fashioning Art From Paper” exhibition was shown at SCAD Fash Museum of Fashion + Film on Savannah Collection of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus in 2019. In 2018, she exhibited at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2012, de Borchgrave made an installment for the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC. In 2011, she had a huge exhibit at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, a museum in San Francisco. Other exhibitions have taken place at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, the Palazzo Medici, Palazzo Strozzi, and museums in Sao Paulo, Luxembourg, Istanbul, Antwerp, Hokkaido, Osaka, Ontario, London, Antwerp, Boston, New York City, and others.