“When I started studying design in 1982, no one knew that clothes were supposed to be designed,” said the now world-renowned haute couturier, Guo Pei, in a 2017 interview. “My parents and neighbours didn’t understand why clothes need to be designed. There are only a few types of clothes, they would say. There were fewer than three types of collars in China: lapel and small lapel. That’s it.”
When Pei graduated she wanted to create stunning gowns. “But my boss at the time always said: ‘No one wants it. Design something we can sell.” But Pei had a hunch that people would want artisan-crafted gowns and, in 1997, opened her own Rose Studio. Soon, she was creating couture gowns for high profile women in Chinese media, film and music. Pei is known for incorporating beautiful elements from traditional Chinese design. “Royal embroidery was lost over a century ago when the Chinese royal family was dismissed,” Pei said. “So right now we are trying to bring it back.”
Pei’s grandmother had always told her that “nobody should wear yellow,” as it is the colour of emperors. Yellow is Forbidden is the name of the 2018 Pietra Brettkelly documentary chronicling Pei’s rise as a designer. Yellow is also the colour of the two-years-in-the-making Pei gown that Rihanna wore to the 2015 Met Gala. The yellow cape had a sixteen foot train, 50,000 hours of embroidery and a weight of 25 kilograms.
As Rihanna stood on the Met stairs, people in North America and Europe started talking about Pei too. Some were raving, some were meme-ing, but they were talking.
As she had dreamed, Guo Pei was finally invited to join Paris’ exclusive Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. She is also the subject of a stunning new Rizzoli book, Guo Pei Couture Beyond, with photography by Howl Collective. Her clothes feature in fairytale shots based on mythical stories, such as Samsara, Garden of the Soul, One Thousand and Two Nights or The Legend of the Dragon.
Starting this week – October 13th to January 20th, Guo Pei: Couture Beyond will be showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery. This forty piece collection was curated in collaboration with Atlanta’s SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film. It includes the Rihanna cape and selections from some of Pei’s most revered collections from 2012 to the present. Take a look at the Atlanta showing below …
Tickets for the VAG exhibition are available for purchase in advance:
Written by Elizabeth Newton