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Nowhere is the charm of the current Bellevue Arts Museum exhibit, “A World of Paper, a World of Fashion: Isabelle de Borchgrave Meets Mariano Fortuny,” more evident than in a peacock-blue robe patterned with gold birds, standing with its matching slippers as if waiting for its wearer to return.

Though made entirely of paper, its folds seem to fall like heavy silk; looking at it, you sense its soft warmth and almost hear its rustle in a long-ago hallway. Made by artist Isabelle de Borchgrave, it is a tribute to a dress made many decades ago by designer Mariano Fortuny — which, in turn, was whimsically designed to be worn by the fictional character Albertine in Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.” (Fortuny and Proust were mutual admirers; Proust’s heroines often wore Fortuny gowns.)

The worlds of art, fashion, and literature swirl together in this garment; though new, it seems to carry the magical dust of history. That’s true for all of the works in this collection: dozens of gowns and accessories created entirely from paper by Belgian artist de Borchgrave in artful conversation with Fortuny, who died in 1949 and whose innovative designs set the fashion world by storm. His Delphos dress, a loose column of pleated silk, was considered revolutionary in the time of corsets and elaborate shaping; you still see its echoes today.

Numerous Delphos dresses are part of the BAM exhibit, arranged over several rooms on the museum’s third floor and beginning with a fanciful, Arabian Nights-ish paper tent so feathery-light that it seems to float over our heads (an homage to a real tent Fortuny once created). The Delphos silhouette is shown in saffron yellow, azure blue, moss green, lavender — you could drown in these colors — often accessorized with a decorative belt, shawl, tunic or cloak. A purple dress has an orange-and-rose mantle twisted over it, giving the column an entirely new shape; a sea-foam green gown, glinting with gold, has a loose tunic tossed over, so sheer it barely seems present.

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Fortuny didn’t restrict himself to the Delphos style, and neither does this exhibit. A white dress with puffed sleeves provides startling relief to all the bright colors; it’s like a quiet ghost. In a back corner, several dresses inspired by medieval times are grouped together, including a long-sleeved green gown in which you can easily picture Juliet on her balcony. And other details make the experience all the richer: vintage photographs, some taken by Fortuny himself; a playful rendering of the designer’s studio (complete with faithful dog).

De Borchgrave, in intricate detail (even the tiny beads, used by Fortuny to help his gossamer garments hang properly, are made of paper), has created an exuberant, elegant world in this collection — fashion made art, with a whimsical twist.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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