EXCLUSIVE: Metro.Style Chats With Top Chinese Couture Fashion Designer Guo Pei
The writer Kate Paras-Santiago with Guo Pei at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong
Guo Pei rose to her current status of fame after blowing up on the scene after Rihanna wore her bright yellow gown on the Met Gala red carpet in 2015, but little has been said about her years of history as a fashion designer, and her strong perspective about how haute couture is changing the world. As elaborate as her designs may seem, here is a woman who is reserved and soft-spoken, graciously humble despite her many remarkable achievements, and an unassuming living legend so to speak. We were lucky enough to have sat down with her at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, the morning after the SCAD Fashion Showcase, and asked her about her passion for haute couture, and plans for the future. Read on and get inspired...
READ: You Have To See These Pieces From SCAD Hong Kong's Fashion Showcase
Metro.Style: What did you think about last night’s SCAD Fashion Showcase?
Guo Pei: I think last night’s show was great! I can see that all 7 students made collections that were complete. They are very skillful in dressmaking, and secondly, I can see that they are very down to the detail. These characteristics are very rare, and very important in the skillset of the students. After their graduation, I think they can start their studios right after.
Question to Daisy, Guo Pei’s daughter: Why do you choose to go to SCAD next semester?
Daisy: When my mom was invited to SCAD in Savannah, they showed me around the campus and the classrooms, and because I am very interested in art, and I like to paint and design, after she and my dad talked to me about SCAD, I think it’s a really good choice for me! I’ll be spending my first semester in the Hong Kong campus.
GP: I see of SCAD as a very young school with a very promising future because I can see that they put much emphasis on the fundamental art skills of students, which has been neglected by a lot of art schools in the world.
A Guo Pei creation will leave you breathless.
MS: What is it like being a Chinese fashion designer today? What are the challenges that you face?GP: The Chinese fashion industry has a very short and brief history, it’s just been about 30 years, but this is also the best time for the industry because it is vibrant, it is emerging, it is growing, and it’s the best time for us to develop our talent.
MS: You mainly design haute couture. Why did you choose to go this route? Do you ever plan on making an RTW line anytime in the future?
GP: Actually, my career path also spans 30 years, but in my first ten years, I worked as a designer for RTW. But during that period, I found a hard time expressing myself, because as a designer, I want my emotions to be expressed through my works and pieces. I really want to utilize all those pieces to tell a story, to tell my experience, or to express a certain viewpoint. So, in a way, I wanted my works be more artisan. Haute couture is actually more on the art side of things, RTW is there to serve our daily lives. Haute couture is higher up there, and it is meant to lead the fashion industry, to help us to get to a better life. The works that you see on the runways are more haute couture, and as you can see, they are very heavy on effort, and it takes a lot of time to make those pieces.
Footwear for the fearless
God is in the details.
MS: What are the top 3 characteristics of a Guo Pei piece?
GP: I think the first most important characteristic is the hand-making, and the craftsmanship itself. It is not just about fashion, it’s above fashion, it should be timeless. It should accompany you for all your life.
MS: Which designers do you look up to?
GP: I look up to a lot of designers including Balenciaga, Dior, Chanel, and John Galliano, because they all have their shining points. I love Dior and Chanel for their pursuit of extreme feminism and elegance. I like designers with sophisticated minds, with a complete set of values they want to share to the world, because they have interesting philosophies.
MS: We all know that you dressed Rihanna at the Met Ball. Who else in Hollywood do you dream of dressing?
GP: We have maintained some contact with Hollywood stars along the way, but it’s not my strong desire from deep down my heart to dress a Hollywood star. I just want to produce better works.
Guo Pei dressed Rihanna in the famous bright yellow ball gown for the Met Gala back in 2015
MS: Why do you think haute couture still plays a vital role in society today? Why should people still bother with clothes they don’t necessarily afford?
GP: The difference between a man and an animal, is that we have the pursuit mentally, spiritually. So, even though haute couture cannot be worn by everybody, the pursuit of beauty and the pursuit for a better life exists in everybody’s heart. I think that even though people cannot purchase one, or cannot wear one, but just even a glance at the piece would really satisfy them mentally or spiritually. That is the relevance of haute couture.
For an haute couture designer, we also have to do the spirit of sacrifice to create a piece that people will want to have a glance of, so we cannot put profit on top of everything. We need to put art and artisanship on top of everything. I cannot imagine a world without art, and I cannot imagine the fashion industry without haute couture. Because haute couture is like the soul of this industry. I really wish Alexander McQueen were still alive, because we really miss that type of pursuit of extreme beauty and aesthetics.
As a designer myself, I have to strike a balance between making a living and still preserving a space for my creativity. I often hear about young designers complain about wanting to do something but worrying that their works might not be bought. I think in this sense, I myself am very happy because I spend 80% of my day job to really do the 20% of my passion and interest.
Guo Pei's designs are definitely not for the faint at heart.
MS: We know that you collaborated with M.A.C for a sold-out makeup collection. What other merchandise do you want to experiment with and what’s next for THE Guo Pei?
GP: Actually, I don’t think there are any boundaries in the sphere of design. As I’ve worked very happily with M.A.C before, I also want to dabble into other sectors like interior design, I really want to carry on that kind of spirit of the pursuit of beauty and bring it to people’s daily lives. Not just through clothing but through other merchandise.
This feature originally appeared in Metro Magazine's March 2018 issue. Special thanks to SCAD and Sinclair Communications.