Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine
Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine | Foto: Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine

Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy

Por: Edward Rueda

12, May, 2022 en Luxury Trending

Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy

By Heide VanDoren Betz

“I work hard to create works that will still be in this world a hundred, two hundred, three hundred, or even a thousand years later and will make people think of stories from the era in which I created them. That’s my purpose in making clothes.”

Guo Pei

Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine
Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine

Guo Pei is China’s most renowned couturier. For over 20 years, she has been dressing celebrities, royalty, and the political elite.

Guo Pei was born in Beijing in 1967 to two members of China’s Communist Party; her father was a former battalion leader of the People’s Army and her mother was a kindergarten teacher. She recalls her father having thrown away her sketches and paintings as a child. Her grandmother though, a great influence, told stories of the beautiful clothes she once owned but was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. She told stories of the pleasure and beauty of embroidered flowers and butterfly wings.

Guo got her actual start in sewing at the age of 2, helping her mother make clothes for the winter; this task and her grandmother’s stories developed her love for dressmaking. During her childhood, Mao suits were considered the only correct form of clothing but Guo Pei loved her loose-fitting dresses. She went to study at a vocational/professional art school at the age of fifteen where they learned two things – how to draw clothes and how to make clothes; no more, except they were taught Japanese because Japan was ahead of China in the clothing industry. No one ever thought of America or Europe becoming part of our world. She graduated and received a degree in fashion design being among the first in a group of fashion professionals.

She recalls: I grew up looking at a picture of my grandmother in a white dress. I grew up during the cultural revolution so the dresses I wore did not have many flowers. Every night before I went to bed my grandmother told me stories of how she used to make a dress with flowers when she was young. Back then there were no photos but I had my imagination.”

After graduating (inspired, forward-looking) Guo Pei spent a decade working for both state-owned and private companies. In 1997, she launched her own business, Rose Studio, a couture house that creates lavish gowns for Chinese celebrities and private clients, out of its 3000-square-meter studio in the city’s 798 Art Zone. Rose Studio employs nearly five hundred skilled artisans dedicated to producing her stunning creations, some of which can take thousands of hours and up to two years to complete. In China, Guo is best known for designing dresses for the hosts and performers at CCTV’s New Year’s Gala, a televised annual event to approximately 700 million viewers. She also designed the ceremonial garments for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In 2015, Guo Pei was one of the few contemporary Chinese designers to have works exhibited in the extraordinary and popular Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fashion exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass, an exhibition whose mission was to explore the influence of Chinese culture, craftsmanship, and esthetics on the fashion of the West. It is to this exhibition that Rihanna wore Guo Pei’s now-famous yellow gown- with a voluminous yellow train.

Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine
Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine

The Yellow Dress Sensation

In 2008, Guo conceived a canary yellow floor-length dress with a large circular train, edged with yellow-colored fur and embroidered with silver floral patterns. It took approximately 50,000 hours and over two years for her design team to create this one-of-a-kind wonder. The creation weighed 55 lb.

Entertainer Rihanna came across the piece on the internet while researching a design for the China-themed New York Met Gala in 2015. According to Guo Pei, when first asked she did agree to the proposal of having Rihanna wear the gown but was concerned about the singer being able to handle the weight. Rihanna indeed appeared on the red carpet in the Guo Pei gown, followed by a three-person entourage carrying the voluminous train. The dress created a sensation and remains a sensation. A photo of Rihanna in the Guo Pei gown was subsequently featured on the cover of Vogues Met Gala edition. This event, exhibition, and ensuing media exposure gave Guo Pei the recognition she deserved among Western audiences.

In 2015, Guo Pei became only the second Chinese-born member in the 147-year history of the coveted Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the chief governing body of the high-fashion industry, allowing her to show on the Paris Haute Couture Week calendar. She made her Paris haute-couture debut in January 2016, unveiling her Courtyard collection to wide critical acclaim. In the same year, she was also named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and one of the Businesses of Fashion’s BoF 500, a list of the most influential people shaping the global fashion industry.

By any measure, Guo Pei has lived a remarkable life, spanning from the hardships of China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) to the heights of the international fashion world. Now widely hailed as China’s premier couturier, her five-decade-long career is distinguished by her artistic innovation and transcultural perspective. This global worldview manifests itself in her designs, which draw equally from Asian and European aesthetic traditions to occupy a space between fashion, theater, performance, and sculpture.

Guo Pei uses exquisite craftsmanship, lavish embroidery, and unconventional dressmaking techniques to create a sartorial fantasy that fuses her personal story with myriad influences: China’s imperial past and export art, the grandeur of European court life and architecture, theater, and the botanical world. Each collection starts with an abstract concept—a spark of inspiration—drawn from this wide range of sources. Through this postmodernist approach, she layers meaning and imagery, forming a bricolage of opulent surfaces superimposed on sculptural silhouettes.

Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine
Guo Pei: From Mao Jackets to Couture Fantasy for Luxury Trending Magazine

A culmination and a high point of Guo Pei’s genius is evident in the exhibition at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco. Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy, celebrates the unique and extraordinary designs of Guo Pei, China’s first couturier. 80 original, one-of-a-kind creations from the past two decades highlighting her most important collections shown on runways in Beijing and Paris are on view. With exquisite craftsmanship, lavish embroidery, and unconventional dressmaking techniques, Guo Pei creates her fantasy, and therefore her legacy. She combines influences from China’s imperial past, Asian and European decorative arts, European Catholicism, art and architecture, and a universal botanical world. While traditional Chinese motifs permeate many of Guo Pei’s collections, her designs themselves are not classically Chinese; they are an amalgamation of cultural and artistic influences that include European art and historical fashion. In this way, her designs reflect contemporary fashion practices that challenge notions of cultural authenticity. Guo Pei has therefore thrust China into the forefront as a leader in the fashion world in the early twenty-first century.

Guo Pei: “The Culture of China is just like the blood that runs through my veins, it’s my life….China has more than 5000 years of history, even longer culturally speaking. That history has greatly enriched my designs and is essentially the foundation of my work. Elements like phoenixes, dragons, totems about ancestors, or even our memories… they flow through my designs.”

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