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Courtesy of SCAD
Courtesy of SCAD
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China's Premiere Designer Honored by Savannah College of Art and Design

Picture of Jill Di Donato
Fashion Editor
Updated: 19 October 2017
You probably know Guo Pei, the Chinese couturière best known for her imperial yellow flame gown that Rihanna wore to the 2015 Met Gala, which was featured in the 2015 Costume Institute’s exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass. The dress, which Pei calls, “Magnificent Gold,” took over two years to make. Two years later, Pei is being honored with a retrospective solo exhibition at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and a new book by Rizzoli as part of the SCAD Museum Book Collection.

And so, the West gets a taste of China’s most revered designers. Pei’s devotion to the revival of beautiful traditional embroidery techniques, colors and silhouettes that were lost during the Cultural Revolution has positioned her as bridge between contemporary China and its past. Her gowns, which require the assistance of many artisans, are anathema to today’s trend of fast fashion.

In this interview with the designer herself, learn how her country inspires her artistry and how each gown represents an ineffable femininity.

Joe Schildhorn/BFA/REX/Shutterstock
Joe Schildhorn/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace says in a press statement, “International superstar fashion artist Guo Pei is in a league of her own, as is SCAD, the preeminent source of knowledge in the disciplines we teach. It is our honor to partner with Guo Pei and with our friends at Rizzoli to publish the first grand compilation of her work as part of the SCAD Museum Book Collection. Readers will become immersed in the ethereal, magical world of Guo Pei and the wonders she creates.”

© Guo Pei walks through her exhibition at SCAD
© Guo Pei walks through her exhibition at SCAD | Courtesy of SCAD

Readers will be intrigued to learn that several of the garments have Pei’s signature in the lining, which the designer makes using her own hair as thread. Because hair does not decompose, it is often seen as a symbol of one’s immortality.

Culture Trip: Is fashion art?

Guo Pei: Of course, I believe that fashion is an art. Art covers every point of every aspect of life. In any industry, when you achieve continuous breakthroughs on your path of pursuit, to a certain extent, it becomes an expression of art. Art is a human state of mind.

CT: How do you choose a particular person to wear a particular gown?

GP: A certain person can only highlight her unique qualities by wearing specific gowns. I have worked in this industry for 20 years as a haute couture designer, and I am very picky about the models wearing my designs. I believe that what a model wears and how she expresses herself is very important. It can bring greater integrity to the entire creation. You could say that the wearer is also an important component of the work.

CT: How do gowns, in particular, express femininity?

GP: Gowns can perfectly express a woman’s inner beauty, her outer beauty and her independence.

Guo Pei lectures about haute couture to SCAD students
Guo Pei lectures about haute couture to SCAD students | Courtesy of SCAD

CT: Where do you get your inspiration?

GP: I find my inspiration in everyday life. Whatever I see, hear and come into contact with often touches me. I hope my designs convey this feeling. Every one of my designs tells a story; I aspire to share my values and my world view through my work.

CT: How has China influenced your design aesthetic? Can you give me specifics of places in China that especially inspire you?

GP: A person’s culture is like one’s lifeblood; you cannot live without its influence. Your growth is influenced by it. Your culture penetrates throughout your life. Thus, its influence on me is fundamental; what is special about Chinese culture, is in fact Chinese imperial culture. When I was a child growing up in Beijing, I often went to play in places such as the imperial gardens and the Forbidden City. I was deeply influenced and much inspired by them since I was very young.

The first U.S. solo museum exhibition of designs by eminent Chinese couturière Guo Pei features 46 gowns and runs now through March 4, 2018, at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film.