Welcome to the world of Guo Pei, couturier extraordinaire. The eponymous brand is based out of Beijing and Paris. Guo Pei is renowned for dressing Rihanna for the Met Gala, held to inaugurate the 2015 exhibition: ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’. The exhibition is a retrospective on how Chinese aesthetics influenced Western fashion; Guo’s designs were displayed there. Dressing Rihanna propelled Guo onto the international stage. Her first solo exhibition was held the same year at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. She collaborated successfully with cosmetic giant MAC in a make-up collection that took the world by storm, also in 2015.
Guo Pei has been sewing since the age of two. She is China’s darling couturier and has been in the Chinese fashion scene for more than 20 years. Her gowns have dressed celebrities, socialites, royalty, and the political elite; her creations transform already beautiful women into magnificent ethereal creatures.
Combining traditional artisanal savoir-faire with an eye for detail and design, Guo’s pieces are crafted with technical precision. She was invited into the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture whose members comprise primarily of Haute Couture houses. This means that the House of Guo Pei is recognisably a protected label and is permitted by the French Ministry of Industry to call itself a Haute Couture brand alongside Dior and Chanel. This is France’s highest accolade for designers, enabling Guo to take part in the Paris Haute Couture Week in 2016. She showcased her ‘Courtyard’ Collection in Paris which anchored her firmly in the Parisian fashion world.
Today, Guo’s atelier can be found on rue Saint-Honoré, a prestigious shopping street in Paris. Her success harks back to a childhood dream of aspiring towards perfection in the contemplation of beauty. And Guo Pei’s designs are indeed beautiful.
Guo’s Spring/Summer 2017 Collection – ‘Legend’ – features jewel encrusted gowns in hues of muted emerald green and shimmery antique gold. Skirts are set in frames but with sufficient fabric left over to billow as the model glides on the catwalk; a model strides confidently in a pair of structured trousers that hug her androgynous hips. This collection reflects Guo’s dedication to detail, three-dimensional embroidery, her trade mark, and meticulous craftsmanship. The collection is romantic and dreamlike. The fabrics are canvases for Guo’s artistic expressions much like paintings and embroidery were for Old Masters.
‘Legend’ was inspired by the murals in the dome of Switzerland’s St Gallen Cathedral. For the collection, Guo collaborated for a year with Jakob Schlaepfer, a haute couture fabric designer, to produce the bespoke fabric which pay homage to the cathedral’s Rococo paintings.
The twenty-one pieces in the collection reflect Guo’s appreciation of the “spirit of handicrafts” and the “spirit of devotion”. Guo shows her spiritual side in these creations full of motifs of holy saints, heavenly goddesses and medieval warriors. The spectacle lends a romantic and mysterious ambiance to the catwalk.
Guo is a storyteller. Inspired and fascinated by the origins of Mankind, creation myths and the mysteries of everlasting life, she sutures these fantastical legends on fabric.
The 2017 Haute Couture Show was held at La Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her execution. Opening the show was ‘the Revenant’ a luminous dress invoking the queen’s ghost as she wanders the corridors of her castle prison. The music accompanying the spectre’s entrance onto the catwalk is as hauntingly mesmerising as the dress. The model wears a crown, tall and ornate, signifier of Marie Antoinette’s position as the Queen of France who will forever be remembered as the legendary queen that the Revolutionists sent to the guillotine.
“Legends have alway been one of my greatest sources of inspiration, unlocking my infinite imagination.” Guo says.
A legend of the catwalk Carmen Dell’ Orefice, 85 years young, closed Guo’s couture passerelle. She was the “bride” – the model who traditionally closes Couture Shows – clad in a flaming poppy red gown flanked by two elfin male attendants. A structured cape opens up behind the model’s head like a flower in full bloom; a sea of red trails behind Dell’ Orefice as she traverses the catwalk path. Choosing to dress the “bride” in red reflects Guo’s deconstruction of Chinese wedding rituals in which the bride gown is traditionally red. The auspiciously coloured gown is made from pure silk that has been specially treated. Interwoven into the thin and airy fabric are wires so fine, they resemble human hair. This is a manifestation of Guo’s fantasies which are inspired by legends.
Guo Pei is herself a legend; her name will go down the annals of Haute Couture. Her designs, which often combine Chinese craftsmanship with technical innovation and Western style evoking emotional responses like art does, will ensure that Guo Pei stays a legend amongst legends.
Image credit: Guo Pei
Can fashion be considered art? Haute Couture is high fashion and not for the faint-hearted when it comes to dress. Names like Chanel, Dior, Yves St Laurent are familiar brand names most of us would have heard of. They are established fashion houses that have the right to call themselves creators and purveyors of Haute Couture.
Guo Pei is a new comer to this scene. Her designs combine her love for sewing and dress making with Chinese traditional craftsmanship. I was bowled over by the artistic flair of her creations. Her latest designs were inspired by Rococo paintings found in a church. This combination of art and craft marks her as a fashion designer whose work I would call art.