“Clothes can be the architecture of the body,” Guo Pei’s quote reads on a wall at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, where 80 of his costumes are on display through November. The exhibition “Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy” unfolds like poetry; Just a quick walkthrough will grip the audience with its level of artistry. Describing Pei simply as a fashion designer falls short of capturing the splendor and technical prowess of her work. Borrowing freely from multiple sources – be it China’s imperial past or the natural world or European architecture – Pei creates exquisitely crafted garments that intersect with fashion, performance art and sculpture. And some of his pieces — such as the Da Jean Dress exhibit — take tens of thousands of hours to execute.
“Clothing can be the architecture of the body.”
“I’m so lucky to be able to make clothes,” she tells PopSugar Pei’s journey to become the second Chinese designer to be invited as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (French Authority for Couture) is remarkable. Born in Beijing, she developed an early passion for embroidered clothing through her maternal grandmother, who told her stories of her upbringing during China’s final imperial era. He spoke of richly embroidered Chinese court robes, which contrasted with what Pei was seeing at the time, as embroidered robes were forbidden during the Cultural Revolution. “At that time, there was no color in clothing, everything was plain,” says Pei. Her fascination with beautiful clothes deepened when she began sewing with her mother, whose glaucoma made it impossible for her to continue making clothes for the family.
Pei later enrolled in China’s first fashion program and spent a decade working for name-brand companies. Still, she wanted to make embroidered clothing, so she eventually set out to revive the art on her own. Since it was no longer taught to girls in the 1930s, she traveled to various villages to source artisans, eventually opening her own practice, Rose Studio, in 1997. Today, it employs 450 artisans, of whom 300 do embroidery.
Many know him as the creator of Rihanna’s gold embroidered gown at the 2015 Met Gala, but Pei was an acclaimed designer long before that moment. The couture designer has successfully channeled his love of imagination, architecture and spirituality in an illustrious career marked by his technological innovation and global outlook.
“Motivation, I believe, is the accumulation of love for life.”
Pei’s well of inspiration is not yet exhausted. The legendary designer spoke with POPSUGAR about his childhood, the evolution of fashion in China, and his hopes for the future of the industry. Read on for the full interview, lightly edited for clarity.