Paris haute couture closed Thursday with China’s two inimitable designers—Guo Pei and Laurence Xu—leading the increasingly ‘foreign invasion.’
The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, the industry’s governing body, welcomed five new names who debuted on day one—two from the US, and the rest from Europe. And couture week was extended by an extra day this year.
Against this reinvigorated backdrop for an event that was once a gilded cage reserved exclusively for French houses with an atelier in Paris, Pei and Xu have long since taken their place.
Xu first showed in Paris in July 2013 and Pei made her official debut at the Spring/Summer 2016 Couture collections.
Their shows are consistently among the most anticipated in Paris since they bring an unequivocal, sensual mix of East-meets-West to the catwalk.
Both designers flaunt Chinese couture skills with over-the-top opulence but in a marked change this season, their silhouettes shifted gears to embrace more Western silhouettes that included goddess gowns, one-shouldered sheaths, pant suits and mermaid dresses.
These dresses inform the red carpet—Xu has dressed actress Fan Bingbing for the Cannes film festival and Pei was propelled to international fashion fame when she dressed American pop culture icon Rihanna, for the 2015 Met Gala in New York.
With his third couture show, Xu was a guest of China’s ‘New Couture Committee,’ a group chaired by Christine Zhao which aims to take China’s best designers beyond Asian shores towards international recognition.
In a side event, hosted by Zhao, four Chinese designers showed a total of 20 pieces in Paris’s most exclusive boutique, Les Suites. It was there that Taiwanese designer Kilin Chen saw one of his gowns sell to a Middle Eastern princess for 20,000 euros within an hour of arriving in the boutique.
As the first designer based in China to be awarded honorary couture status by the Chambre, Pei has the more distinguished status of the two Chinese stars at couture week. This was her fourth collection.
She staged her show in the gilded Hotel Salomon de Rothschild. And while it was rich with cultural undertones, and co-opted Chinese emblems, she said she wanted to “focus on the clothing itself.”
“For long, I have been using my designs and my work to express my feelings, my dreams and speak from my heart,” she told Jing Daily. That emotion—a focus on the clothing—played out from start to finish with a shimmering, fragile and continuous stream of sexually charged gowns that took their color tones from jewels.
With a team of 500 seamstresses in China, according to Pei’s husband Cao Bao Jie, who is better known as ‘Jack,’ the fashion house now has an atelier in Paris on the rue Faubourg Saint Honore.
“All the work is done in China,” Jie told Jing Daily before the show. “It’s my wife’s ambition to bring our artisans to Paris, but that’s in the future. We currently only have four staff in Paris.”
Sitting under the opulent dome of the Intercontinental hotel, with his one-year old daughter on his knee, Xu said of his collection, “This is my Silk Road journey.”
“In the past my collections were spiritual. This time they are literal, inspired by landscape. I want to take everyone to the countryside, people should not always stay in the city.”
His ideas played out as grey clouds breaking at dawn painted on a tulle bodice, and on a bronze shift painted with landscapes along the Silk Road including trees, mountains—even camels. It marked his recent journey to the province of Anshun, a town he described as having “ravishing waterfalls and great natural beauty.”
Xu went to Anshun believing there were undiscovered artistic techniques that could be adapted to couture. And he succeeded, discovering a wax printing method exclusively applied to the color blue. Xu successfully used the technique in other color palettes that played out on a series of sunrise reds and sunset blues.
He showed an enormous breadth of creativity from gossamer light tulle skirts swirling beneath tightly fitted bodices, to flirtatious hemlines and closely cut jackets with elegant shawl collars. His blue and grey fur cuffs were as light as powder puffs.
Eka Iukuridze, the founder and artistic director of Les Suites said sagging economies are not denting couture sales (citing the double digit growth for couture by Chanel and Dior.)
“Women who are buying a gown by Kilin Chen, or any other of the Chinese designers in my boutique are seeking a unique experience,” said Iukuridze. “Chinese designers are ambassadors for traditions of embroidery, hand-painting. And for women around the world, that is the point of difference they pursue.”
Susan Owens is the founder and editor of Paris Chérie, a Paris-based fashion website dedicated to bringing French style news to Chinese readers.