“Fashion shouldn’t just be about the present. I care more about the meaning behind the details. Therefore, the embroidery and motifs you see on my clothing all have stories behind them.”
GUO PEI, 2018
My membership for the Vancouver Art Gallery has come up for renewal according to an e-mail that I received a few days ago. Vancouver has enjoyed many excellent exhibitions over the years thanks to Vancouver Art Gallery’s professional team. During the past year of lockdown, everyone at the Gallery worked tirelessly to foster creativity during a time of uncertainty.
Tonight, I am going back to the exhibition, Guo Pei: Couture Beyond to share an unforgettable exhibition. Guo Pei is a storyteller, first and foremost. Her stories are not given with words that are written with pen and paper. They are created with the artistic energy and flare of embroidery and bead-work that adorns her exquisite couture collections.
From the exhibition notes:
By 1881 there were 1,050 people-primarily young girls-in the East China city of Suzhou alone engaged in embroidery. However, in 1997, when Guo Pei set off to open her own atelier, Rose Studio in Beijing, she struggled to find skilled embroiderers able to bring her creations to life. Embroidery and cotton cloth weaving in China was historically done by women at home, and provided an integral income for sustaining their families.
Guo Pei had heard that in the Hubei province there remained a group of craftspeople who had embroidered for the royal family, and so she journeyed to central China knocking on the doors of homes with embroidered curtains. With the aid of the women she met there, Guo Pei trained a new generation of embroiderers and has built an atelier that employs more than 500 workers including skilled artisans and technicians. Together, they produce three to four thousand custom garments each year.
Many of Guo Pei’s designs incorporate ancient yet familiar Chinese motifs, such as the lotus which represents purity of mind and spirit; ruyi embodied by the head of a scepter, symbolizing the power to grant wishes; the mountain and wave which were commonly used on the hems of royal court robes and the meander or cloud and thunder pattern which represents rain and abundance-some of these can be seen in her sketches, which are displayed here.
However, Guo Pei has said that her favourite motif is the dragon, which was historically reserved for the Emperors robes, distinguished by five toes rather than the four found in its depiction on common goods. As a child, Guo Pei’s grandmother would recount her memories of the extravagant gowns embroidered with butterflies and peonies that women wore in the final years of the Qing Empire, China’s last imperial dynasty (1644-1912). Guo Pei, born in 1967 during the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, could scarcely imagine such lavish attire at a time when the rough cotton, utilitarian Mao suit was the height of fashion.
For more photos of this exhibition, I invite you to visit my SmugMug page entitled: Guo Pei Beyond Couture