Aiming for the A-list

Updated: 2013-02-08 07:53

By Mark Graham (China Daily)

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 Aiming for the A-list

Guo Pei has plans to introduce more ready-to-wear pieces including bridal outfits. Photos provided to China Daily

Fashion designer Guo Pei has made a name for herself among China's celebrity set, but is now looking for greater international success

China's most flamboyant designer, Guo Pei, whose outrageously extravagant gowns are much sought after by movie stars and socialites, aims to make an international impact in the near future. Beijing-based Guo is famous in her native country for producing her signature gowns, one-offs that can cost up to $50,000 a time. Among her clients have been A-list stars such as Li Bingbing and Zhang Ziyi and singers Tang Can and Sun Yue.

The sometimes-bizarre couture confections of the design maestro have even come to the attention of the razzle-dazzle-loving entertainer, Lady Gaga, who made inquiries about commissioning a Guo garment.

Fashion writers from overseas have also been flattering about her work, prompting Guo to consider broadening her horizons. A collaboration is planned with Italian haute couture textile designer Angelo Sesana to develop chinoiserie fabrics.

"I hope people in Paris, New York and London can appreciate and like my work," says Guo, 45. "I really want to become an international designer in the future. In five or ten years, I think we will get more international attention on Chinese fashion. I think it will grow very fast and we will have famous designers - and I hope I can be one of them."

Guo has a style that is unmistakable. Inspirations for her creations can come from disparate sources including bullfighting outfits, imperial gowns and Hollywood fantasy movies. The intricacy of the embroidery and beading work on each special order can involve up to a year of work.

 Aiming for the A-list

Guo says she is like an author telling fairy tales with clothes. Photos provided to China Daily

"I like garments that are very elegant and classic and have a lot of detail," she says. "I am like an author with my clothes, I like to tell a romantic story, a fairy tale. I get my inspiration from many sources. Watching the Tim Burton movie about the bride who died, and came back to life in the moonlight, wearing a beautiful dress, was one source. From movies like that you can see the meaning of life and how precious it is.

"Another of my collections was inspired by bullfighting and a collection called 'Childhood Dreams' was influenced by the fact that I had just had a child. On a visit to Paris, I saw Napoleon's costumes in a museum and that really gave me ideas also."

Guo works from Rose Studio, located in an outer suburb of Beijing. The nondescript exterior gives no hint of the glamour that lies within: the interior decor is wildly elaborate, with chandeliers, mirrors, animal-skin rugs, gold bird cages and chaise longues, plus an ornamental iron staircase that winds to the upper floor.

A staff of 150 work in the studio, with another 300 employed in factories that make the garments; the finished items sell for between $3,000 to $50,000, depending on the level of intricacy involved.

The designer, who is the mother of two daughters, is not the out-and-out extrovert her creations might suggest. Dressed simply in black, with no entourage, carrying a phone that rings constantly, Guo is warm, softly spoken, bright-eyed and thoughtful, carefully considering replies to questions rather than trotting out well-rehearsed answers.

She says: "I think there are two sides to my personality - inside, when I am creating, it is very dramatic, but outside it is the opposite. I am just the creator of the dream: My personal style is very simple because I have to work every day, so it is more convenient to dress simply. Although I do wear my own designs for parties and events it is not necessarily the showpiece ones.

"For me, it is the technical side of design that I find interesting. For inspiration I like to go to museums all over the world. I like all designers, they all have their strengths and personal styles; Yves Saint Laurent was an influence, and John Galliano at Dior.

"I talk to my staff with emotion and hope that I can teach them how to go further, and to have a clear aim for the future. I think of it like a school where they are students and I am the teacher."

Currently, almost all the items Guo makes annually are at the couture end of the fashion spectrum, but she has plans to introduce more ready-to-wear pieces including bridal outfits.

The fancy togs Guo currently makes are certainly not items that could be worn to the office. Among her more exotic creations have been a Chinese blue porcelain-print dress, with long train and fan-like head-dress; a shimmering, beaded outfit with sleeves like upside-down traffic cones; and a skirt with three tiered levels paired with a bolero top.

For one collection, she flew in septuagenarian model Carmen Dell'Orefice from New York to model a jeweled gown that was so heavy it needed a two-man escort to bear the weight, and two boys to help carry the train. Other gowns included a Japanese geisha-style creation with embroidered dragons, a yellow fur coat with matching gold boots that appear to have been inspired by the Apollo moon-landing missions and sultry scarlet frocks that would not look out of place in a Wild West bordello.

Until now, Guo has largely been famous in China, but that may change, as her international profile rises. Recently, she has been featured in the New York Times magazine and on the Fashion Wire Daily web site.

Writer Godfrey Deeny of Fashion Wire Daily saw Guo's work for the first time at a show in Beijing, and was amazed at the clothes - and surprised by the tepid reaction from the audience. "In Paris or New York she would have got a two-minute standing ovation, and merited every clap," he wrote. "Everything about the show was impressive, except maybe the audience.

"There were hints of Galliano and McQueen, but Guo Pei very much does her own thing, from the traditional wooden heeled shoes that morph into red carpet platforms to the exquisitely-finished Chinoserie beading and embroidering.

"Think Salvatore Dali gets to direct a remake of Sofia Coppola's royalist apologia Marie Antoinette. Guo Pei can also cut a mean suit - a series of midnight blue jackets and boleros with sky blue embroidery and extended chiffon fringes showed she is a great tailor."

China Daily

(China Daily 02/08/2013 page20)