By loosening our standards and democratizing even the most coveted of titles, we’ve forfeited the appeal of everything that could appear desirable. When everyone is a self-proclaimed diva or a playboy, how do we know a real one?
Luckily some institutions still use strict standards and rules to recognize the most gifted and remarkable talents. Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week — organized by the Fédération française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode (French Federation of Fashion and Ready-to-Wear Couturiers and Fashion Designers) — remains highly prohibitive, and only a handful of designers are invited to introduce their collections during this exclusive event. Beijing’s own Guo Pei happens to be one of them.
Famous in the West for her collaboration with MAC Cosmetics and for designing Rihanna’s 2015 Met Gala gown, Guo is a household name in China where she dressed the likes of Zhang Ziyi and Li Bingbing. Guo’s dresses are the epitome of couture. Theatrical, exaggerated, and superbly extravagant, her designs belong in a museum or Marie Antoinette’s flamboyant, aristocratic world. And this is the condition that makes them so appealing to the Chinese elite.
It’s no wonder that Sotheby’s, whose largest shareholder is now China-based Taikang Life Insurance Co., noted her rapid ascent and invited her to curate pieces for their auction Gold: The Midas Touch, which will open in October. The auction will take place in London and will comprise four of Guo’s couture gowns. This is an opportunity for the Chinese designer to showcase the heritage and craftsmanship of her native country and convey the artistry of her culture. According to Sotheby’s, “The auction celebrates the single metal which has compelled mankind for six millennia, building empires and destroying dynasties.” And gold evokes Guo’s most famous designs, figuring as a sort of personal trademark in her work. Some of her most elaborate gowns use gold and silver threads.
China has a long culture of high-end dressing. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), fashion was luxurious and pretentious, with garments made of silk and expensive fabrics decorated with beautiful embroidery and refined embellishments. This was a sumptuous age of fashion exuberance that left a strong mark on the country. Later, fashion branched out across the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Women had a greater variety of garments, while groundbreaking techniques in working silk (hand-pleating) were made more readily available. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) introduced the beautiful Manchu robes to help illustrate social status and power. Then, in October 1949, Communist rule brought about an altogether new form of fashion with standardized tunics and uniforms. Considering China’s deeply structured fashion history, it’s not surprising that today the public craves freedom, authenticity, and self- actualization.
Guo Pei is crafting gowns reminiscent of China’s former splendor. Her success can be attributed to her fashion intuition and her ability to sense temporal changes in trends. She presented her elaborate designs at just the time when China was ready to embrace couturiers and gowns that take 50,000 hours to create.
Sotheby’s says that the auction will include, “Contemporary Art, Russian Works of Art & Fabergé, Design, Furniture & Decorative Arts, Asian & Indian Art, Sculpture, Old Masters, Medieval Manuscripts, Watches, and Jewelry.” Moreover, in September Guo will collaborate with Sotheby’s team during Asia Week in New York. The “Xiao Jin” or “Little Gold” gown which was presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art during China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition (2015) will also be on display.
“Working with a prestigious institution like Sotheby’s has always been a wish of mine,” Guo Pei says. “I am thrilled to make this collaboration a reality. Through Sotheby’s, passionate art lovers will have a chance to appreciate the true value of my couture creations.”