by Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan
LOS ANGELES, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Silk, chiffon, tulle, organza ... the names of the world's most luxurious fabrics on display at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California roll off the tongue and conjure up historical splendor, but that is nothing to the feast that meets the eye, "Guo Pei: Couture Beyond," a landmark exhibition from China's most well-known haute couture fashion designer.
The latest collection of Guo Pei, featuring 40 extraordinary creations from her most dramatic runway shows from the past decades, had its West Coast premiere at the Bowers Museum on March 9. The exhibition will continue until July 14.
"We have a long history of doing major exhibitions with China," Peter C. Keller, President of the museum, as he and Board Chairwoman, Anne Shih, introduced the exhibit to local and international media.
"If you don't know who Guo Pei is, just recall the yellow dress that Rihanna wore to the Met Gala a few years ago which ended up on the cover of Vogue. That gown launched Guo Pei into international fame and led to her being ranked as China's leading fashion designer," Keller wrote in a message to all visitors.
Organized by the Bowers Museum in collaboration with Guo's Rose Studios, SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film and SCAD: The University for Creative Careers, the exhibition traces the evolution of Guo's design sensibility over the past two decades.
"My work is not about costumes. It's about the guiding spirit of fine craftsmanship and creativity," explained Guo, a soft-spoken woman with a sense of humility.
"While incorporating contemporary innovation, I try my best to showcase the finest of traditional craftsmanship and Chinese culture via my creations," said Guo, adding that Chinese designers' impact on the world fashion industry grows with the deepening of China's reform and opening up and the expansion of its influence over the past few decades.
For 20 years, Guo has been dressing celebrities, distinguished ladies, royalty and the political elite who turned to her for show-stopping creations. A modern messenger of her cultural heritage, Guo has breathed a fresh, new contemporary design aesthetic into embroidery and painting traditions that dates back thousands of years. Guo's designs were worn by performers at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the annual CCTV New Year's Gala.
"Guo Pei has brought to life a riotous world of opulence, color and beauty," said The New York Times. Time magazine named her one of 2016's 100 most influential people, and calls her work "enormous, barrier breaking - not defined by East or West."
More than just a fashion designer, Guo is an artist who showcases the finest tradition of Chinese design, then weaves into her work the influences and innovations of world cultures and traditions as well, such as Elizabethan England, Spanish Toreadors, Catholic cathedrals, Napoleonic military wear and much more.
The results are astonishingly unique works of art almost too beautiful to wear and fine enough to grace the backs of the queens and empresses of yore.
Guo's deluxe palette is composed of the world's most exquisite materials: hand-painted silks woven in accordance with thousands-year old Chinese techniques that spawned the ancient Silk Road trade and changed the course of history; plus luminous pearls, glittering crystals and beads, winking cat's eye gemstones; precious metals from the earth: gleaming 24-karat gold leaf, gold-spun thread, silver-spun thread, handmade metal flowers, brass florets, and copper appliques; trailing feathers, twinkling sequins, imported vintage lace, and exquisitely fine silk embroidery that takes up to 50,000 hours to complete.
Assembled in one place, her creations become the stuff of magic. Culled from her previous collections, the startlingly unique pieces range from the Napoleonic-inspired splendor of her 2006 Samsara Collection; the Shakespearean Midsummer Night whimsy of the fluted dresses of her 2008 Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream; the impossibly-elegant imperial gowns of her 2012 Legend of the Dragon Collection; the flower-colored, coquettish fairy dresses of her 2015 Garden of Soul Collection; the refined gold and silver embroidered coat of her 2016 Encounter Collection; to the flights of fancy of the fantastical, three-dimensional geometric and gold mesh forms of her 2009's 1002 Nights Collection.
Guo's visionary work leaves the predictable and banal far behind, entwining unexpected elements, ideas and radical curve-balls into every novel design, so that her designs, more than just exquisite confections of high fashion, soar to the rarified realm of wearable art.
In her Legend of the Dragon pieces and some of others, Guo makes use of traditional Chinese symbols that denote rank and character and serve as lucky talismans, including the five-clawed dragon and "fenghuang," a mythological Chinese bird similar to the phoenix. In Chinese lore the fenghuang has a reputation for virtue, duty, decorum, reliability and mercy. An emblem of China's Empress, it also served as a female counterpart to the Dragon.
Focusing on natural and organic materials, the centerpiece of her 2019 Elysium Collection is an elaborate canoe-shaped dress fabricated from an unusual haute couture material - bamboo. Using bamboo harvested from bamboo groves in Huangshan in east China's Anhui province, Guo worked with skilled bamboo weavers to make the elaborate lattice which gives this garment its astonishing form. When finished, it was gilded in gold and embellished with gold lace, and articulating branches that conjure up a fantasy forest.
With showrooms in Paris, Beijing and Shanghai, a special-edition cover of American Vogue, and designs displayed at New York City's prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guo's growing creative influence continues to delight her admirers as it inspires the global fashion industry.
"I love Chinese culture, that's the inspiration of my design," Guo told Xinhua.
"While being inspired by many elements from other cultures, Chinese culture is the root of my creativity," she noted.