News & Politics

A Pretty Party for the Pretty “Prêt-à-Papier” Exhibition at Hillwood (Photos)

Belgian painter Isabelle de Borchgrave and her trompe l’oeil paper dresses were feted with a dinner by candlelight.

Isabelle de Borchgrave explains the technique behind her trompe l’oeil paper dresses to guests at the opening party for her “Prêt-à-Papier” exhibition at Hillwood Museum. Photograph by Jeff Martin.

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

The Breathtaking Paper Designs of Isabelle de Borchgrave (Pictures)