Guo Pei’s creations emanate glory. While the famed couturier is best known in the United States for crafting Rihanna’s 2015 Met Gala gold dress, Guo’s work has blended illusionary whimsy and lavish elegance for decades. At the Legion of Honor until September 5, more than 80 works by Guo weave together a vision of grace and extravagance.
The “Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy” exhibition functions both as a spectacle and as a daydream, as impressive as it is hypnotizing. Behind a matte dressing room screen, silhouettes of dramatic dresses foreshadow the splendor of the exhibit; turning the corner revealed several pieces from the 2007 “An Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream” collection. Featuring youthful colors such as pastel yellow and light lilac, the collection shimmers with aesthetic convolutions of resin cabochons, jacquard woven silk and Swarovski crystals. The jewelry subtly stuns, denoting Guo’s organic themes with jellyfish-like earrings and barnacle-like groupings.
Fleeing the sea, Guo found her roots in idiosyncratic garden dream worlds, taking viewers to botanical paradises in the “Garden of Soul” and “Elysium” collections. Using natural fibers such as raffia and bamboo, Guo blends themes of growth and immorality. Beaded flowers grow on rounded skirts like eggs, and embroidered irises creep eagerly over corsets. Fluffy hats with spindly metal leaves crown silver wigs, and vines climb over light platform shoes that ground the ironic down-to-earth fantasy.
On the other hand, the exhibition also presents collections ready to take off. Crows adorn several pieces from her Fall/Winter 2019-2020 “Alternate Universe” collection, complete with piña fabric, beads, goose feathers and ramie rosettes. Ruffled goose feathers reappear in her extravagant ‘Himalaya’ collection, featuring drop waists, dramatic sleeves, chunky boots, white fishnets and woolly textures. Both collections highlight the allure of nature and the moving way in which it converges with humanity.
Elsewhere, inspired by Romanesque, Gothic and Neoclassical architecture, Guo’s L’Architecture Fall/Winter 2018-19 collection explores the intersection of space and self. Chunky black outlines, structured steel-wire bodices and pronounced geometric shapes balance soft colors and intricate architectural embroidery.
Often created through thoughtful historical and cultural lenses, many of Guo’s creations reflect on his Chinese heritage. Her workshop uses Chinese embroidery techniques as well as Indian, European and Russian style stitches. Comprising a single dress worth 8,000 hours of work, her breathtaking 1002 Nights collection pays homage to China’s classic white and blue ceramics with its exquisite hand-painted and embroidered silk.
With his golden touch, Guo also explores his country’s imperial past in collections such as Legend of the Dragon, East Palace and Inheritance. From the old, the remarkable Lanfeng (Blue Phoenix) radiates greatness like feathers of gold split ocean blue in tousled, frenetic elegance. In another room, in a nod to the Qing dynasty, golden dresses amaze participants with their thick furs, Swarovski crystals and faux pearls. Satin stitches of silk yarn and metallic threads form rolling Lishui waves and leafy scrolls, and symbolic phoenixes, butterflies and bats float across the fabrics.
Beyond these signs of prosperity and promise, Guo’s work emphasizes rebirth. Perhaps most memorable is her groundbreaking Da Jin (Magnificent Gold) ball gown from her 2006 collection, Samsara (Life Cycle). Lotus pods and trailing plants adorn the gold, floor-length dress, embroidered with a gold bedding technique. Guo sees the dress as a “reincarnation”, a representation of the sun. Her regal and optimistic beauty shines with sanctity with the rest of the exhibit.
From her golden corset bodices to her sparkling silver sleeves, Guo materializes divine daydreams of opulence and artistry in the most spellbinding way. The famous fashion designer draws threads from the depths of her lucid imagination, and “Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy” shows that even the wildest daydreams can become tangible.
Taila Lee is the Arts and Entertainment Editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet it on @tailalee.