Magnificent Guo Pei
Magnificent is an understatement. That’s how we felt when we saw Guo Pei’s Yellow Queen on display at Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture exhibition in Singapore. And that’s just the tip of her over the top and out of this world designs that are currently exhibited at the Asian Civilisations Museum until 15 September 2019.
In all honesty, we first found out about Guo Pei when Rihanna wore ‘Yellow Queen’ for the New York MET Gala in April 2015. It was a dress (actually an overcoat) that launched a thousand memes. But it also introduced Guo Pei’s designs to a bigger audience worldwide. “The dress was already made when Rihanna saw it online and requested for it. Frankly speaking, I didn’t know who she was at that time,” she said in an interview with the BBC.
The image of a steely Rihanna posing resolutely in this 25-kilogram dress with three-metre train appeared on the cover of a special edition of Vogue magazine the day after the Gala. Guo Pei credits Rihanna for “giving new life” to the gown – the original model for the runway show could not finish the walk in 2010 because of its weight.
While the ‘Yellow Queen’ was displayed grandly in front, visitors to Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture exhibition have to walk right to the end of the building to see the rest of her designs.
The main exhibition space features three sections. In ‘Gold is the Colour of my Soul’, Guo Pei’s signature yellow and gold works reflect the historical significance of colour, techniques, and materials strongly associated with imperial China.
Through ‘China and the World’, Guo Pei’s hybrid designs parallel Chinese export art in blending Chinese imagery creatively with Western silhouettes and tailoring.
In ‘Treasured Heirlooms: Chinese Bridal Dress’, Guo Pei’s works continue and modernise traditional Chinese bridal style, with strong Peranakan connections; and they have found relevance with celebrity brides today, including Angelababy, Liu Shi Shi, and Tang Yan.
When we were at the main exhibition area, the first design we saw was Chinese actress Angelababy’s wedding outfit. “It’s not traditional red like the normal Chinese wedding dresses,” said our guide for that day. “The striking bright orange is affectionately called “Pinang orange” by Peranakan Chinese in Penang, referencing the colour of the areca nut (pinang) used in betel chewing,” she explained.
This creation is also the genesis for this collaboration between ACM and Guo Pei. The couturière saw a bridal ensemble in the Peranakan Museum’s travelling exhibition on Peranakan Chinese art in Paris back in 2010. Her interpretation of that Peranakan bridal ensemble, worn by Angelababy for her wedding, was seen by exhibition curator Jackie Yoong. She made the connection to the Peranakan Museum’s historical bridal ensemble and then began to conceptualise this exhibition.
What’s special about this exhibition is how designs from Guo Pei are juxtaposed with artifacts from the museum. 20 Chinese art masterpieces from the Museum’s collection and 29 dresses by Guo Pei are on display over the span of two galleries. “Our aim is to make a point as to how heritage and tradition are very much relevant to the contemporary; that heritage and tradition can be remarkably sexy and alluring,” said Mr Kennie Ting, Director of Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum.
“In this exhibition, fashion and history come full circle. We see how the past inspires the present, we see how traditions are revived and rejuvenated, and we see how export objects and foreign ideas influence the local. I encourage visitors to take a close look at the incredible detail in Guo Pei’s fantastical works – to fully experience the devotion and dedication behind the thousands of hours of stitches required to make them”, said Ms Jackie Yoong.
As we walked through her collection, we get to see Guo Pei’s love for tradition, beading and all things intricate. Our jaws dropped when our guide mentioned that some dresses, like the Yellow Queen, weigh more than 20kg. Others took thousands of working hours to complete. Every stitch and embroidery were meticulously done by hand. Also another thing that visitors should take notice of is the design of shoes that Guo Pei made for her all creations. You’ll definitely get to reach new heights in them. Every shoe design is made specifically for each dress.
What we can say is all the photos you see here and everywhere online will not do justice to Guo Pei’s artistic designs. You need to see it for yourself.
Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture will be open from 15 June to 15 September 2019 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Admission charges apply. For more information, please visit www.acm.org.sg.
All photos by Ili Farhana