Today Jeannie and I went to the Legion of Honor to see Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave, a woman artist who works with paper to recreate historical fashions. Yeah, I know – totally awesome, right? Borchgrave looks at “Old Masters” era paintings of women and recreates the garments worn by the wealthy aristocrats of Europe. It's fascinating to look at.
The Medici Women
Fashion is always ephemeral, of course. Fabric simply doesn't preserve as well as a stone sculpture or an oil painting. Clothes will wear out if they're worn – and certainly in Ye Olden Days, when one didn't have the plethora of ready-made t-shirts and jeans that we have now, you might wear the same dress six days a week...or longer. (Eeew.) People are also far less likely to hold onto a garment that has fallen out of fashion, the way they might keep a painting or furniture “for the kids”. By using paper as the medium for her reconstructions, Borchgrave really underscores the disposable nature of fashion, that is it is as easy to discard old clothes as it is a receipt or junk mail.
Neapolitan Woman, 2010, after Stanzione's ca. 1635 portrait
Whenever I would look at one of the dresses, I would have to fight the urge to reach out and touch it. The garments were richly textured. To recreate the appearance of cloth, Borchgrave used stamps, handpainting, crumpling and pleating. When a dress would have been coated in jewels and beads, that surface was recreated with papier-mâché – at least, I think that's what she did, but without confirming by getting close to the art and touching it how can I be sure?
Inspired by a ca. 1545 portrait of Eleanor and her son Giovanni de’ Medici by Agnolo Bronzino
From a distance, the clothes look quite real. It's only when you get up close that you realize, “Yes, it really is paper!”
I think Pulp Fashion is one of my favorite shows that the Legion has done. It was so beautiful and creative. Inspiring – that's the word I'm thinking of. It made my fingers itch to do something new with my hands...which, as far as I'm concerned, all good art shows should do.
Isabelle de Borchgrave, Eleanor of Toledo, 2006
Photos: Andreas von Einsiedel