Guo Pei’s designs are distinctly intricate hand-stitched masterpieces showcasing Chinese artisanal embroidery, beading, and overall craftsmanship using silks, crystals, gems, pearls, sequins, gold- and silver- spun threads — each with a story to tell. The inspiration ranges from Chinese history and mythology (dragon: middle jumpsuit; phoenix; below right) ,…
…even Tim Burton’s movie, Corpse Bride, and more.
Rihanna’s history-making yellow dress was inspired by the grand Napoleonic era uniforms worn by soldiers who could lose life in a breath. The designer said, “these people fought for their dignity by wearing the perfect uniforms… It was the true respect of life… [I was] so moved by such attitude, feeling the urge… to sing the praises of life.” [Source] Guo Pei considers this dress a milestone marker for the birth of modern Chinese Haute Couture.interview with Forbes, Guo Pei started sewing at age two, helping her mom make the family’s winter clothes. She used to alter loose dresses from her mother to make them more stylish. Her father used to throw away her sketches, telling her that she should [instead] “study hard and get a proper job.”
As a young girl [living in a world where everyone dressed the same] she fantasized about the stories her grandmother told her about embroidery and what people wore in the palace. When she was eight, she asked her grandma for a yellow dress but the latter got very angry with her because “yellow is forbidden.”
By the time she finished (26 among 500 applicants) her fashion design major at the Beijing Second Light Industry School in 1986, Deng Xiaoping led the People’s Republic of China to post-Mao economic reforms. Guo Pei got work for ten years as a designer at one of China’s first privately owned clothing manufacturers, producing 1,000 designs per year. There, she learned that execution — more than design— is the most difficult part.
In 1997, she opened her own studio, perfectly timed for the country’s new rich who wanted glamorous, extravagant dresses for special occasions. She was asked to produce Olympic ceremony outfits, festival galas for television. She was a costume designer on the set of the 2014 film, The Monkey King. Recruitment and training of Chinese workers skilled in needlework and other traditional artistry skills for her expanding work revived these fashion-crafting traditions which all but died during the Communist period.
When she traveled to France and the UK in 2000, she encountered Chinese artifacts that she hadn’t seen back in China. This awakened her deeper esteem for Chinese art and motifs which further inspired her creations.
The 2018 documentary about Guo Pei, Yellow is Forbidden, shows her Spring 2017 show preparations at Paris’s La Conciergerie, Marie Antoinette’s prison before her execution. The fashion pieces to be showcased were to align with Marie Antoinette’s dazzling style just before the end of her life.
Now dubbed as China’s Couture Queen, Guo Pei has broken the glass ceiling by being the first Asian-born designer guest member in the 147-year history of the very exclusive French Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
Forty of her iconic designs are on exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Guo Pei: Couture Beyond.
The 2015 Garden of the Soul Collection: In collaboration with MAC Cosmetics, Guo Pei create a collection uses flowers because “they spread happiness, which is important for cultivating one’s inner garden.”