The Cream of Chinese Couture
As Guo Pei opened Singapore Fashion Week last night Chopstix looks back at meeting the couturier at Haute Couture Week in Singapore:
Beijing born Guo Pei has been called “the Chanel of China” and credited with inventing Chinese haute couture but the 45 year old, now in her 15th year of designing*, is philosophical about the monikers.
“In China, we sometimes believe in destiny,” she says matter of factly. “Haute couture was right there in my way of working at the beginning but I didn’t know it. I was merely trying to get the best out of my designs. It was not until a year or two later that I was told that what I was doing was called ‘haute couture’ in global fashion.”
Pei is the first born and raised Asian designer to be invited as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and has been honoured for her contribution to the couture industry in Asia with the inaugural Asian Couture Master Award.
Her striking and intricate designs involve many hours of work with the longest piece to complete taking approximately 50,000 hours (although she has been required to turn a piece around in just 24 hours). Many of her pieces seem to reference historical China although the designer says it has has not been an easy task to find traditionally skilled artisans to work on them.
“The years that I grew up in were the time when tradition was an oversight in China,” says Pei. “As a consequence I have rarely met any professionals that have inherited the traditional craftmanship so I had to learn a lot of traditional skills from historical studies in the libraries and museums.”
Pei emphasises though that her work is not just rooted in China. “I have been adapting many skills from all around the world with references from Arabian culture and Indian and European aesthetics. I would describe it as a global style.
“The dragon I’ve presented was not the traditional Chinese symbol which is used to represent royalty. I have portrayed the dragon with a brand new attitude for the younger generation. I see the dragon as a symbol of love.”
Her clientele include an assortment of celebrities, elite business women and socialites and her admirers include Lady Gaga. The US popstar has been very public with her praise and desire to work with the designer on a stage costume although the two have not managed to collaborate yet.
“We have been in touch and communications with her have been very smooth and pleasant,” says Pei. “I wish that one day we can do something amazing together.” [Pei has since designed a much discussed dress for Rhianna for the China Through the Looking Glass themed Met Gala.]
Despite her respect for the popstar, Pei is not one to get carried away with celebrity. “Designing for me is like making my dreams come true. I believe that a designer should invest more time in interpreting the dream rather than making noises through celebrity exposure.”
Added to that, Pei says many of her clients are actually everyday people. “I might make only one piece of clothing for them in their lives, just for that special occasion. I usually get deeply moved by doing so.
“I don’t normally think about for whom I’m designing because I believe that someone will fall for my piece when it reaches perfection. I will be happy to see anyone wear it who falls in love with my work.”
[*This story was originally published in 2013]
Singapore Fashion Week 2016 continues this week.