Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 January 2020

Chinese couture designer Guo Pei offers rare gold wedding dress at auction

The designer talks to us about bridging the gap between culture and creativity

Chinese designer Guo Pei. Photo: Sotheby's
Chinese designer Guo Pei. Photo: Sotheby's

Guo Pei may be best known for dressing Rihanna for the Met Gala in 2015 – in a dramatic yellow gown that spawned a thousand memes – yet hers is the name ­behind some truly groundbreaking creations. From the shimmering pieces she created in a palette of the softest blush through to inky black, to an architectural caged dress, the Chinese designer has wowed at every turn during recent Haute Couture Week shows in Paris. In fact, she is the first Asian member of the prestigious Parisian guild Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

Connoisseurs of couture now have the rare opportunity to bid for one of Guo’s most painstakingly produced creations, as she offers a dress at auction for the first time today. Thus far the label has only created bespoke pieces of work for sale. Five years in the making, the “gold traditional bridal dress” is expected to go for up to $870,000 (Dh3.2 million) through the ­Sotheby’s London auction house on New Bond Street, and can be bid on via the phone, app or online from the UAE as well.

Guo Pei's gold traditional bridal dress is up for auction through Sotheby's London on October 29. Photo: Sotheby's
Guo Pei's gold traditional bridal dress is up for auction through Sotheby's London on October 29. Photo: Sotheby's

As with many of Guo’s creations, the wedding gown is replete with gold. The antique-look thread is inlaid with the precious metal, while the couturier employed 30 types of stitches to create a three-dimensional effect by embroidering over sheepskin. Marital motifs appear within the intricate pattern, including the double fish on the front panel of the skirt, which represent “jinyu mantang”, a blessing bestowed upon newly-weds that translates as “may gold and jade fill your home”.

Woven elsewhere are auspicious clouds, gourds, peonies and bows – symbolising harmony, happiness and prosperity – as well as an image of the dragon and phoenix, to mean a match made in heaven, according to Chinese mythology. Guo speaks to The National about her aesthetic and influences, and the impact Rihanna’s endorsement had on her label.

When did you first fall in love with fashion?

My grandmother ignited my ­interest in fashion at an early age. Her descriptions of clothing in her era left a deep impression on me [and] I found that design was my life’s career.

When you were growing up, did you see clothing as a form of rebellion or freedom? What do clothes represent to you now?

Design is a very personal form of expression. It can be a pure expression of beauty, an expression of desire towards perfection, or an expression of one’s morals and values. Each one of my couture collections has a theme about life or responsibility. I hope these dresses can influence [one’s] personal philosophy and choice.

What are the defining features of your work?

During my 30 years in design, ­imperial court culture has [provided] infinite inspiration for my creations. My design inspiration can come from western silhouettes and colours incorporating eastern patterns and techniques. I love to tell modern stories using exquisite traditional crafts.

How important is gold as an element in your designs?

The dress is replete with marital motifs, such as the double fish on the front panel. Photo: Sotheby's
The dress is replete with marital motifs, such as the double fish on the front panel. Photo: Sotheby's

I adore the colour gold. I am obsessed with imperial court art; from the architecture to the clothes and art, gold is indispensable. It represents supreme power and a pursuit of the ultimate attitude. I use it in my designs to express extreme beauty, and my sentiments about life and dedication. In my works, I often use gold to express the Sun and the Earth, to symbolise eternity and infinite tolerance.

What are some of the traditional Chinese crafts you use?

Embroidery is most important in my works. These exquisite techniques belonged to the imperial court, but disappeared with the decay of empires. By a process of searching for them, my personal style of creation formed gradually. You can find some elements of traditional embroidery, which I incorporate with different techniques and art forms from other countries. This way, the creations present a multilayered visual effect. I hope I can give these traditional crafts the charm of today, so they not only exist in the past, but also have a presence now and in the future.

Did Rihanna wearing one of your dresses to the Met Gala change the course of your career?

Rihanna in a Go Pei creation at the 2015 Met Gala 
Rihanna in a Go Pei creation at the 2015 Met Gala

When I saw how well the piece suited Rihanna, how magnificently she carried it, I was touched. The gown was initially designed for a queen. It weighed 55 pounds [25 kilograms] and took more than two years of hand craftsmanship to complete. The person wearing it must have a strong personality. I feel grateful that Rihanna breathed new life into the gown. Of course, the international attention she and the Met Gala drew to me and Chinese couture design has brought more opportunities.

How did it feel to become a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture?

I am honoured to be the first Asian guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. During its 160 years, it has never judged works by market demand or [monetary value]. To be acknowledged means our work is world-class. It means the world is paying more attention to China, which makes me proud. To be able to communicate and exchange ideas with the top designers from the organisation is also a dream for many designers.

Why are there not more designers from China enjoying success on the international stage?

I am the only one in the couture arena for now, but more Chinese designers have come into international [prominence]. The western fashion industry has matured in its crafts and forms, which takes a long time to achieve. I had to work in this industry for more than 20 years before I became a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. With globalisation, people are becoming more curious about Chinese culture [and] design, as a global language, is an opportunity to show China to more audiences.

What does China have to offer the international fashion scene?

In my opinion, fashion is related to culture. The world has been defining differences between eastern and western culture. In the course of historical movements, these differences combine and influence each other into some unforgettable classics. These possibilities and innovations are what designers have been seeking. The legacy of Chinese culture is a grand treasure exposing its unique charm. I believe that with the synchrony of the world, more elements will be drawn into design.

Why did you decide to collaborate with Sotheby’s?

Since the beginning of my couture journey, I have created work with artistic expressions that influence the future. This collaboration with Sotheby’s is also a recognition of my creations, as its works are often of a high artistic value. As it is the first Sotheby’s auction of Chinese couture designer work, we both seek a new commercial way to support the appreciation and dissemination of art pieces.

Would you ever move into ready-to-wear?

Moving into ready-to-wear means more merchandising. It is not my intention, so I am not considering this yet.

Updated: October 28, 2019 06:25 PM