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PFW Haute Couture's first Asian designer


07-01-2016 00:26 BJT

She is touted by the media as the first Asian designer to showcase at the Paris Haute Couture Week and is one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. For Guo Pei, who spent 50,000 hours making a single dress, nothing compares with the joy of wearing your heart on your sleeve. Julian Waghann sat down with the Chinese designer who dishes on why people were paying 5000 yuan for her dress, when they could get others for just 50!

This majestic gown made Rihanna the talk of the town at the 2015 Met Gala. This is also how most people learned of the name Guo Pei.

Yet, as early as the 1990s, she was already a celebrated designer in China. While she was working as the artistic director at a Beijing based clothing company, one of her dresses was so popular , it was bought by 360,000 people.

Instead of riding on the wave of her commercial success, Guo opened Rose Studio, an haute couture boutique in Beijing, at a time when people were still wearing the blue and grey Mao suits.

Q1. Arriving at where you're today, this process must have been full of challenges. For example, at a time when most people in China didn't have a grasp of what fashion means, you opened the first haute couture boutique. How did you convince people around you, including your clients, that this was something worth investing in?

"Actually, when I first started 20 years ago, I had no idea what haute couture was. I didn't even know Dior and Chanel were also haute couture fashion houses. I simply liked it. I had only the person that I wanted to dress in mind, to design a dress for that person and bring happiness to her. I was absolutely convinced that when a woman wears my dress, it's going to make her happy, make an impact in her life or even change her life. So, everyday, this is what I told people. Everyday, I had to explain to people why my dresses cost so much,"

"When I first started off in fact I always lived inside my world. I didn't know that a dress made by someone else only costed 50 kuai, or that a cashmere coat only costed 500 kuai twenty years ago. I thought that if I were to realize that perfect dress for me, it would cost 5000 kuai. Everyone thought that I was crazy to ask for this much. In fact, I wanted a stage where I can showcase the finest of things. That determination helped me choose the road that's right for me."

"I wanted a 'stage' to showcase the finest of things"

"After I made that grand gold dress using 50,000 hours, I looked up in ceiling. And when I saw the dress in the ceiling mirror, it looked like the sun. I said to myself, 'this is what I always wanted!' Yet everyone knew that the dress was no longer a merchandise. It was not going to make any profit. It embodied my sacrifice--That's what I wanted to do!"

Guo Pei

Guo Pei's artwork

"I didn't know why I wanted to do it. I think it was meant to be. It was my life mission. Now, I think each person already has his or her track when they're born. I followed my track by following my heart, and I saw my future."

"The grand gold dress embodied my sacrifice"

"I followed my heart and I saw my future"

A future that would redefine Chinese design. In April this year, Guo was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. For Guo, haute couture is not just about making a dress, it's about 'fabricating a dream.' That means being the spearhead of the industry and someone who can re-invent the tradition.

Q3. You've said at the core of haute couture is the passing on of a heritage. If 'One-Thousand-and-Two Nights' was about the pursuit of perfections for you, then the 2012 collection 'Chinese Bride' was about the dissemination of traditional crafts and culture. Four years later, what are your revelations today?

"I think today I've found a path to the future, a path where I can keep soldiering on. Making Chinese wedding dress is this path, a path for our heritage. It can take us one hundred years, two hundred years down the line. While I cannot travel down this path for that long, but I'm certain someone else will continue along this path I've spearheaded. In a way, I seem to find my self-worth, that sense of responsibility."

"Chinese wedding dress is a path for our heritage"

"I was very surprised by this recognition by Time Magazine. There're so many people who I think are much more influential than I am, but maybe it's because people understood my message. Eight hundred thousand people saw that Grand Gold dress at the Metropolitan Museum. Almost everyone who saw that dress was surprised that it came from China. So people say that dress changed the way people think of Chinese fashion or Chinese design."

The dress that redefined Chinese design

Q5. You just opened your first boutique in Paris. What are western customers looking for in a Chinese brand?

"They're curious about Chinese design, but I think they're also looking for something that touch them in a foreign culture. In fact, its something that belongs to all humanity. Actually, I don't think it's because I'm a Chinese designer that they come to me. It's something in my work that touched them,"

"I think of my work as a transference of life--life is constantly being deducted from all of us. but if we transfer it or transform the time we lost into something else, be it an object or an emotion, it will touch people. Technology today can achieve much more than what humans can by hand, but it doesn't have much to do with life or the love of life. While I'm scared of a future filled with virtual reality, I think haute couture and craftsmanship will not perish and people will always come back to it."

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