By Kelly Bai
Photos provided by SCAD
The couture fashions of Guo Pei have already exceeded the realms of fashion and are more akin to magnificent pieces of art.
In the exhibition hall of the Vancouver Art Gallery, over 40 pieces of splendid and luxurious couture formal wear and accessories stop visitors in their tracks. This is the first fashion-art exhibit in the history of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the queen of Chinese couture fashion — Guo Pei — is the first to create this piece of history.
After appearing in Atlanta’s SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, her Guo Pei: Couture Beyond exhibit will be in Canada for the first time, displaying at the Vancouver Art Gallery, starting on October 1 and running until January 20.
Guo Pei is part of China’s first generation of fashion designers — China’s preeminent couturier. Not long after graduating from Beijing Second Light Industry School, Guo Pei established in 1997 her own workshop, Rose Studio, which now employs almost 500 craft smiths. Ever since embarking on the path of formal wear design, Guo Pei has strived to revive in her works the splendid fashions of the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing, perfectly melding together modern designs and ancient glamour. She also works hard to pass on traditional Chinese handicrafts that were once lost, creating modern luxury wear that can also be called works of art.
Her pieces are filled with traditional Chinese elements that make clever use of beautiful materials available, such as embroidery, tassels, shoulder
wraps, buckles and decorative patterns paired with attractive colours and images of dragons, qilins, phoenixes, magpies and more, allowing her couture dresses to emanate an air of luxury, prestige and elegance.
Her designs frequently include classic contours, simple and elegant cuttings, metallic lustre and shimmering colours, and combinations that are elegant and repetitive. Hence, her couture wear has already surpassed the realm of fashion and are more akin to magnificent pieces of art.
For over 20 years, Guo Pei has designed formal wear for celebrities and a who’s-who of the political and business worlds. She is also the designated designer for formal wear during the annual Spring Festival gala. Her success in the fashion world pushed her onto Time Magazine World’s 100 Most Influential People. Furthermore, in 2017, she was included in Business of Fashion’s world 500 fashion leaders list. Her extraordinary success symbolizes a trend outside of Europe and America, challenging a fashion tradition based in Paris, London, Milan and New York City.
The Guo Pei: Couture Beyond exhibit revisits Guo Pei’s design development over the past 10 years. This aesthetic journey begins with her important earlier works, including Reincarnation (2006), An Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream (2008), One Thousand and Two Nights (2010) and more.
Guo Pei’s collaboration with MAC cosmetics in 2015, which resulted in a lively style, is displayed under the gallery’s rotunda. There’s also a collection of
pieces from Story of Dragon (2012), representing in an animated fashion the mysterious dragon from the Chinese zodiacs.
The exhibit’s finale is important works from Guo Pei’s two highly celebrated Parisian collections: the Encounter (2016 fall) collection’s metallic-scaled work and the glamorous works from Legend (2017 spring) — a collection inspired by the architectural style of Switzerland’s St. Gallen Cathedral. The most attractive piece in the entire exhibit is a gold threaded, canary yellow, royal-style robe. Heavily embroidered and with a five-metre long train, this robe utilizes 55 pounds of silk. Rihanna wore this to attend the 2015 Met Gala.
Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery says, “Guo Pei: Beyond Fashion exhibits the works of an extremely important designer in the global fashion scene. This is the Vancouver Art Gallery’s first exhibit to focus on the convergence of fashion and art, demonstrating the tensions that exist within visual culture.”