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Get to Know Guo Pei, China’s Queen of Couture, in New Documentary


Guo Pei is the Chinese queen of couture. Sometimes compared to Chanel, the fashion designer marries traditional Chinese elements and French haute couture with effortless grace.

Get to know the trendsetter in a new short documentary titled Guo Pei: Embroidered Dreams. The film was released in May, a collaboration between global video channel Nowness Asia and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Guo Pei: Embroidered Dreams is not the first documentary to spotlight the fashion designer. But while Pietra Brettkelly’s 2018 documentary Yellow is Forbidden covered Guo’s emergence on the international scene, Guo Pei: Embroidered Dreams is tied to Guo’s ongoing exhibition Couture Fantasy (until September 5) at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

“Her career is emblematic of a shift in global fashion narratives and China’s rise as a fashion leader,” commented Thomas Campbell, CEO of the museum, in an interview with Vogue.

Guo, whose designs break the boundaries between reality and fantasy, fashion and art, and East and West, is one of the most globally recognized Chinese designers.

Not only is Guo the first Asian couturier to be inaugurated as a member of the highly exclusive Trade Association of High Fashion in Paris, but her designs also have a place on the runways of Paris Fashion Week.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

In a scene from Embroidered Dreams, Guo fondly recalls her grandmother’s keen knowledge of traditional Chinese clothing. As someone who grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution, Guo never had the opportunity of knowing such embroidered splendor, and has since aspired to reproduce it in her designs.

Guo’s ambition led her to conduct extensive fieldwork in Northern China: “I went from door to door, asking women who knew how to sew. I wanted to find these lost things and to pass them on [to future generations].”

The film also reveals how Guo’s younger self dearly loved the color yellow but was warned by her grandmother that it could only be worn by emperors. For this reason, yellow has come to represent the ideal and unattainable to the designer.

Colloquially called the ‘Yellow Empress Dress,’ one of Guo’s most iconic creations is a cape gown weighing 48 pounds that Rihanna wore at the 2015 MET Gala.

Cover image via YouTube

Beatrice Tamagno
Beatrice is a graduate student in sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her writings have appeared on SupChina and ChinaNauts, an online magazine she co-founded with fellow researchers from Fudan. When she is not researching gender in contemporary China, you will find her playing mahjong or binging Chinese TV shows.

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