I don’t want to put a date on it, but when I was a teenager (a while back), the rage was to wear paper dresses. They were very Warholian, A-line with a white background and black designs we colored with magic markers. They cost about $14 and lasted maybe a month.
Cut to now, and the elegant dinner party Thursday night at Hillwood Museum, where guests ogled an entirely more advanced version of the paper dress: the exquisite and elaborate designs of Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. These are paper dresses no one would dare try to wear, despite the yearning, and they are meant to last.
The exhibition, “Prêt-à-Papier” is all about eye-popping prettiness, and the al fresco dinner by candlelight to open the exhibition was exceedingly pretty, too: pretty weather, pretty tables under a white tent on the lawn at Hillwood, pretty flowers, pretty women in pretty summer dresses. The de Borchgrave creations, more than 25 in all, are arrayed in the public rooms of the mansion, which guests toured before the themed dinner of Belgian endive salad, filet mignon and salmon with Belgian frites, and pink peppermint ice cream with Belgian chocolate ganache.
Hillwood was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, and it was her granddaughter, Ellen Charles, Hillwood’s current president, who began the dinner by welcoming the Ambassador of Belgium, Jan Matthysen, and commending the work of de Borchgrave.
Matthyson said the evening was the “most impressive” of all of his three years in Washington. “I’m a happy ambassador and a proud ambassador,” he said. He referred to Belgium’s rich history of remarkable paintings and textiles, especially lace and fabrics. “All of this comes together in the work of Isabelle de Borchgrave. Like all the old-world artists, she teaches us to see,” he said. De Borchgrave, sitting nearby, beamed.
As if bringing it full circle, de Borchgrave said Andy Warhol was a mentor. We sat together at dinner, along with Amy Hofland, the director of the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection, a small and relatively new museum in Dallas. That’s where de Borchgrave hopes to exhibit her next series of designs, which she says will be inspired by the Silk Road. Though that’s a ways away on the calendar; her husband, Werner de Borchgrave, said she is booked into 2016. Does he work with her? He smiled in that way a dutiful husband smiles. “I clean her brushes,” he said.
“Prêt-à-Papier” opens to the public tomorrow and will run through to the end of the year. Visit Hillwood’s website for more details.