Regarded as one of China’s foremost couturiers, Guo Pei is all about clothes-meets-art in an exquisite manner – and that’s all about watching models pan down the runway in pseudo-nuns dresses and overly bedazzled gowns for Couture S/S 2017. Held at the Musée de la Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was infamously beheaded, it was like a moment frozen within a Renaissance period as magic unfolded.
There was something overwhelming about this show, maybe it was the tailoring, the draping and weaving of materials; maybe it was the way Pei carefully positioned every single embellishment to precision that was a combination of a fairytale and heritage. Was it the headpieces adorned by the models to look like rebellious royalty, or was it perhaps the presence of the way all the models made it seem like it was an entire show full of saints and queens? The collection had a rather poignant mood; a mysterious and almost unsettling feeling full of symbolism built upon the crowns, crosses and colours, but it was so fetching. Couture would be an understatement to even begin to describe Pei’s collection.
From the first to the last, every model was adorned a uniquely crafted headpiece that was like a sanction of the 18th Renaissance period – from jesters, medieval queens, priests and everything in between, an ode to the infamously adored and fashionable Marie Antoinette, whom Pei considers as a ‘contribution to the change in French fashion’. Faces were painted on like Baroque statues, some powdered with ghastly expressions and blood-red lips, others with gold drizzling down like battered dolls, a compliment to the dresses, and a feast (or shock factor) for the audiences. A bow to the makeup and hair artists who worked so diligently to understand the vision that Pei wanted so well.
It seems that Pei was ingenious enough to work with Church murals and iconography with a genuine appreciation of its capacity to be beautiful and admirable, amidst the philosophy and ethics – in a very Guo Pei way of lavish and jewelled drama. There were many sublime moments with the use of the palette for this collection: various shades of gold were incorporated with uses of woven fabric, beads, sequins, and appliqués that regressed into darker and bolder colours. Additionally, shade of pink and cerulean added to that beautiful regal feel.
A rich collection of textures and materials highlighted her atelier’s incredible workmanship of feather-trimmed gowns, scrunched up balloon dresses and even dome-like masterpieces that immediately resembled a chalice, or a cathedral rooftop. In some context, the fabric was sourced in Switzerland, with actual inspiration of prints featuring murals from St. Gallen’s Cathedral, where Pei had travelled to meet with her textiles manufacturer. Much thought was put into each look and rightfully so; there was a sense of humility and purity, an appreciation to the artistic values of Catholicism in an emotional sense. A key look would be one of the models who hobbled down the runway balancing in pink platforms with a tailing cape and a Cross-shaped chastity belt clinging to her hips.
Eschewing corsets and outer-petticoats wrapped around the wasp waists of models, with ruffled sleeves and flowing dress trains, and to add to the austerity of the collection, a fascinating and well-textured gown with a satin covering over the top. You would have to look twice, otherwise you wouldn’t know that there were LED lights stacked onto the mummified-like dome dress that had one model slowly making her way down the runway. The mystery and mastery of Pei’s use of fabric, technology and volume is terrifyingly ravish.
But the finale was definitely the red closing look that had beloved Carmen Dell’ Orefice, age 85, walking with servant-boys on each side. With a dress of that volume, that size and that elaborateness, one would also feel weak wearing it, but also incredibly liberated. Pei stated that it was a tribute to all queens, named very fittingly, the Royal Spirit. The only red dress in the entire collection, it was a representation of life, death, creed, contribution and devotion. Like an empress overlooking her kingdom and beyond, the dress, complete with a pseudo-red halo, an elusive crown and a form-fitting silhouette had an air of Madonna in the Church. (No, not the singer.)
The duality of Pei’s ability to bring together fashion and art into marriage with her deep attention to detail makes it too easy to mistake couture for just decoration; brushed off as handwork to add a bit of dazzle atop of a garment.
When asked how she wants to present herself to her growing client list with the completion of Couture S/S 2017, Pei stated, ‘I don’t change my work every season depending on any customers, it’s not how I work. I aim to create with what I believe it. I create heirlooms that can be passed down.’
But, at it’s very best – at Guo Pei’s best and beyond, it begins with the essence of channelling her origins of a shape, and building upon it.