‘Guo Pei: Couture Beyond’ gallery exhibition review
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
Guo Pei is one of China’s most renowned and game-changing designers. For over 20 years she has dressed royalty, political elites, and international influencers alike. She has been named in Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people. Her exhibit “Couture Beyond” at the Vancouver Art Gallery showcases over 40 of her creations.
The exhibition demonstrates an intersection between art and fashion. It features Guo Pei’s most celebrated runway collections, such as a yellow embroidered cape worn by Rihanna at the 2015 Met Gala, a collaboration with MAC cosmetics, and recent designs which have never been seen before.
Many of Guo’s creations are inspired by China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing empire, and traditional craft practices, along with her own ideas on contemporary sensibility.
The yellow cape worn by Rihanna was a struggle to make. It took over two years to create due to the surplus amount of details and craftsmanship. The cape weighs 50 pounds and the train is 16 feet long.
After creating the cape, Guo was surprised by an offer for it. “A few years later Rihanna contacted my husband and wanted to borrow this piece. I didn’t know who Rihanna was! […] I didn’t think celebrities wearing this was the best setting, however the inner beauty of Rihanna, and this yellow cape, turned out to be a great collaboration,” said Guo through an English translator during a media tour at the gallery.
The entire exhibit features a theme of desaturated colours paired with detailed gold embroidery. There are also a lot of red shades and floral designs on many creations, which are heavily influenced by Chinese culture. Two unique but beautiful colours used by Guo include diluted mint greens and lavenders.
Most of the creations in the exhibit are made of thick and heavy materials, including furry fabrics and metallic details on the shoes, headdresses, and main pieces. Guo plays a lot with folds of fabric, twisting and turning folds on the undersides of dresses into swirls and floral patterns. She also uses the folding of fabric as a medium to add dimension to many of the articles on display, making some parts appear taller and using the added layer textures as signatures for the pieces themselves.
Guo is unique in the design of her additional pieces of shoes and headdresses. Many shoes toy with the addition of empty space within the heel, and many have jewels and tassels dangling in the empty space, accompanying the stylistic colour palette and theme of the entire work. Similarly, most of the body pieces have supplementary headdresses, ranging from painted crowns to decorative plants (and even some traditional vases).
Most prevalent throughout the pieces are themes of nature, which pair elegantly with the soft colour palettes of all the designs. The embroidery on all of Guo’s works is full of wonderful, intricate details, signifying that she truly is a master of her craft.