Walking through Guo Pei’s Couture Beyond exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery is like journeying through different parts of the world; China, the Silk Road, Switzerland and Europe, with the artist’s vivid imagination as a guiding companion.
There are 43 pieces on display from some of the Chinese fashion designer’s most iconic runway shows between 2006 and 2017.
Diana Freundl, associate curator of Asian art at the Vancouver Art Gallery, has worked closely with Guo Pei on the exhibit and says her fashion combines popular culture, visual arts, film and architecture into craftsmanship.
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“My inspiration comes from flowers because they spread happiness, which is important for cultivating one’s inner garden.” - @guopei … What is inspiring you on this sunny Friday afternoon? ✨ In 2015, #GuoPei created her #GardenoftheSoul collection to coincide with the launch of a limited edition makeup line, designed in collaboration with @MACCosmetics. Flora and fauna figure prominently in these designs and reflect the influence of nature in Guo Pei’s work. The collection was sparked by a historical Chinese-Buddhist saying, “a flower contains the world, one leaf contains enlightenment,” capturing how the spirit of nature and universal oneness can be found in small everyday details. … Come take a closer look at Guo Pei’s immaculately crafted masterpieces in #CoutureBeyond, now on view through January 20! … Image: Installation view of Guo Pei’s “Garden of the Soul” collection in “Guo Pei: Couture Beyond,” exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery from October 13, 2018 to January 20, 2019, Photo: @racheltophamphotography, Vancouver Art Gallery
Freundl says fashion display is a first for the gallery, which is committed to presenting artists from the Pacific Rim.
Guo Pei’s love of clothing started where she was born: in her grandmother’s home in Beijing. Her grandmother would tell stories of imperial gowns, of embroidering butterflies and peonies on her own dresses she wore in the last years of the Qing Dynasty, 1644 to 1912, says a book published under the same name as the show, “Guo Pei Couture Beyond.”
The artist, who was born in 1967, came of age during the height of China’s Cultural Revolution when clothes were pragmatic and mostly egalitarian.
Freundl says clothing was on Guo Pei’s mind because she grew up with her grandmother’s stories of distant princesses and foreign lands, while she had to wear plain attire.
She began working as a designer in 1987 at the age of 20, and debuted on the world stage in 2008 when nearly 300 of her designs were featured during the opening, closing and medal ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
#GuoPei #CoutureBeyond is on @ElleCanada's #popculture radar this October. See this stunning #yellowcape worn by #Rihanna at the 2015 #MetGala in the exhibition, opening today! https://t.co/1fRJEJWgro pic.twitter.com/n7TfZ96fgc— Vancouver ArtGallery (@VanArtGallery) October 13, 2018
A key draw to the exhibition is the golden yellow gown, dubbed the omelette dress on social media and worn by singer Rihanna to the 2015 Met Gala, which catapulted Guo Pei to international stardom.
Guo Pei’s work is one of luxury, both in terms of how long it takes to make each piece and the material used, from fur to silk thread, pearls and laborious embroidery.
The yellow cape that Rihanna wore took 50,000 hours and more than two years to complete.
All of that labour has earned her a spot on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People as well as Business of Fashion’s 500 list. She has her own label and workspace, Rose Studio, which was launched in 1997 and she now employs nearly 500 artisans.
If you go: The exhibit runs until Jan. 20, 2019.
Getting there: Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby Street, Vancouver
Cost: $24 for adults, $20 for those over 65; $18 for children from 6 to 12 years
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Tuesdays and first Friday of the month until 9 p.m.
Hina Alam, The Canadian Press