Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Ottolinger's New World Order

The sci-fi universe of Ottolinger and a skewed take on the denim jacket at the AW19/20 show in Paris. Photographed for DAM by Elli Iaonnou.
A Chinese sci-fi novel, a decontructivist aesthetic and a robust treatment of textiles were at the heart of Ottolinger's new Autumn/Winter 2019 collection. Heightening, the post-apocalyptic drama was the show's sense of chaos and disruption created by big screen projections, flashing lights and metallic sound, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Reporting and photography by Elli Ioannou

The dramatic finale of the Ottolinger show
in Paris
SWISS designers Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient used Liu Cixin's Chinese science fiction trilogy, The Three Body Problem, as the starting point for their new collection.

This was the second time the pair, who are based in Berlin and call their label Ottolinger, showed on the official calendar for Paris fashion week. For the new season, they chose the Lycée Jacques Decour, and its 19th wooden century theatre, as the backdrop to the new collection.

 During the show, a large screen projection, flashing lights and loud metallic sounds were meant to disturb the audience while the models filed past in a collection of distressed, asymmetrical and yet sporty creations. The aim was to create a sense of apocalyptic disorder suggesting that chaos is needed for creativity and innovation to flow.
Bösch and Gadient used Liu Cixin's Chinese science fiction trilogy, The Three Body Problem, as the starting point for their new collection

 Ruched & bunched silvery fabric
made a form fitting dress
The designers have created a certain ethos for Ottolinger that incorporates asymmetry and ripped fabrics that sit close to the body. Idiosyncratic pieces included skirts printed with photographs of a Swiss folkloric tradition where people wear models of their house as hats at the start of the new year.

The design duo like deconstruction and experimenting with textiles and the new collection included a mix of plaids, checks, flannel, denim and knits.

But sportswear is their base from ski looks that seem like space outfits to more tailored pieces such as short tartan twinsets in vivid greens and oranges.

On the catwalk there were black, shiny vinyl looks, dresses with ruches and asymmetric cuts, and Bösch and Gadient's experiments with deconstructing tartans and plaids.

The designers have said they like to drape on the body to create their designs and this gives the pieces a good fit.

The design duo like deconstruction and experimenting with textiles and using a mix of plaids, checks, flannel, denim and knits

Plaids and checks in fluorescent
colours had asymmetric shapes
and raw edges
Jackets and tops were combined with slender trousers and multiple zippers were used outside as elements to heighten the form of the body. Fabric was bunched up to create skirts and bustiers that managed to look both avant-garde and elegant. The designers like to create beauty from unusual elements and enjoy skewing the angle of jackets and dresses and keeping edges raw.

Fantasy is the conceptual part of the show and the futuristic sportswear embodied the designers' vision. They saw this collection as a space opera where the ordinary is combined with the fantastic.The idea of sportswear is taken further this season yet enhances the feminine silhouette such as the green paisley silk looks.

The designers' quote from the writer of the Chinese sci fi novel  gives some inkling of the oblique way the pair create their collections: “Coming up with a new speculative idea that moves me profoundly. Then I plan out a story around this seed. Finally, I create the characters to serve the story. My method of composition inevitably leads to stories in which the speculative idea is the core."

Monday, 25 February 2019

Jacquemus’ Conjures the Warmth of a Summer Afternoon in his New Autumn Collection

Like a 1920s painting, the warm Mediterranean hues of a piazza in summer created in Paris by French designer Jacquemus for his new pret-a-porter collection. Picture by Elli Ioannou for DAM
Pastel-hued houses around a pretty piazza were the backdrop to Simon Porte Jacquemus's new Autumn/Winter 2019 show in Paris. The fluid designs had bright dashes of colour that conjured up the summer warmth of a Mediterranean afternoon, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Additional reporting and photography by Elli Ioannou
One of the pastel houses that form
the set for Jacquemus' new show 
FRENCH fashion designer Simon Porte Jacquemus created a Mediterranean town square with thirty-two pastel-hued houses that looked just like the fishermen's cottages enclosing a little Italian piazza on the island of Burano near Venice. Pot plants, flowers and colourful chairs were outside on the doorsteps, some even had laundry hanging out to dry from the windows. There was a Place Jacquemus with a storefront of Fruits et Legumes, Chez Marco (fleuriste) and a Rue Corbusier.

It was atmospheric and captured the warmth of summer, felt especially on a cold, dark Paris night in winter. The show was created within a large hangar-like space in the Avenue de la Porte-de-la-Villette, a lane in the 19th arrondissement at the Paris Event Centre on the periphery of the city.

In a more modest, yet singularly charming way, the show brought back the memory of Karl Lagerfeld's last, brilliant haute couture show in January at the Grand Palais where he recreated a French garden and villa on the Côte d'Azur.

Jacquemus created a town square surrounded by thirty-two pastel-hued houses

This season, Jacquemus says he wanted to incorporate the line of a Picasso drawing, the colours of his favourite paintings and move beyond his signature South of France aesthetic. He said he also wanted to mix up the masculinity and femininity of the collection, including silk suits and trompe l'oeil knitwear and add elements of both winter and summer. The designer called the collection La Collectioneuse, inspired by a collector of eclectic objects from Memphis prints to painted jeans.

Rich oranges and ochres were a
leitmotif in the collection
The collection included Seventies style orange culottes, coats recalling his new menswear line, pantsuits, skirt and sweater combinations and jackets with utilitarian pockets for the gadgets we all carry around with us.

Capturing the colours of the Riviera were splashes of vivid fuchsia, various hues of orange, emerald green and sapphire sea-blue. There were quirky, crystalline earrings where almonds, nougat and family pictures appeared suspended in clear polycarbonate looking rather like upmarket keyrings.

Accessories have been one of Jacquemus's strengths, including his bags and shoes. This season there were variations on the boot with some over the knee like waders and others with chunky, wooden heels. There were also belt-bags that were very commodious and these were contrasted with tiny, elegant handbags called the Mini Chiquito barely big enough for a lipstick.

In a singularly charming way, it recalled Karl Lagerfeld's last, brilliant couture show at the Grand Palais

Bright pink, like bougainvillea on a wall
in the South of France
Born into a family of farmers, the designer grew up in a small town in southern France. This upbringing has always informed his work and the ochre colours of the South are found as a leitmotif through his work. Just over a decade ago, when he was eighteen, he left for Paris.

He studied first at the École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode (ESMOD) before leaving the program to work as a stylist at a fashion magazine. He began his own career as a fashion designer when he was twenty years old and created his brand Jacquemus, using his mother's maiden name.

In 2012, he presented his collection during Paris Fashion Week. His work initially became known for the fabrics he used in his collections such as workwear textiles and a simple, unadorned cut with prints inspired by French films. He has been hailed as an innovator with a new French egalitarian style that is both imaginative and highly wearable.

The designer takes his signature exhberant bow
at the end of the show
Jacquemus has received recognition for his work, including the Special Jury award by the LVMH Prize, an international competition created by Delphine Arnault for young fashion designers.
Two years ago, Jacquemus added a line of footwear to his collections which has been key to his shows along with handbags and some extraordinary hats, such as the enormous straw bolero that was seen in many magazine shoots.

Building on his growing brand, the designer last year launched his menswear collection and had a very successful showing for his second outing last month with his take on workwear, shown at an informal breakfast where bread, croissants and fruit were eaten by guests and models alike.

Tap on photographs to see more highlights from the show

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Can Fashion Be Sustainable?

Amy Powney, Dame Anna Wintor, Caroline Rush CBE and Liz Bonnin. Photograph by Darren Gerrish.
In London, the British Fashion Council celebrated their Positive Fashion collaboration with BBC Earth and Mother of Pearl with a cocktail reception and film preview at Spencer House, writes Antonio Visconti.

Liz Bonnin, science and natural history presenter welcomed guests and introduced Caroline Rush, British Fashion Council CEO and Jackie Lee-Joe, Chief Marketing Officer for BBC Studios followed by the premier of a short film commissioned by BBC Earth from BBC Studios award-winning Natural History Unit on the tangible opportunity for sustainable fashion choices and mindful consumer behaviour.

Amy Powney, Creative Director of Mother of Pearl closed proceedings with a heartfelt speech on the importance of collaboration.

Caroline Rush, CEO, British Fashion Council said “At the British Fashion Council we recognise that now more than ever is a time to highlight the importance of pursuing Positive Fashion in the industry and keep it at the top of everyone’s agenda to drive change."

Jackie Lee-Joe, CMO BBC studios added: “Through BBC Earth we’re able to reach a global audience who care deeply about our planet and want to understand how the choices they make can impact the natural world. Fashion plays a big part in all of our lives and our film celebrates this creativity whilst demonstrating how informed fashion choices can help create a more sustainable future.”

Amy Powney, Creative Director, Mother of Pearl said “I’m thrilled to be working alongside two iconic British institutions to help inspire positive change. Sustainability is so close to my heart and it is so encouraging to see so many people who share this passion.”

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Jean Paul Gaultier's Sea Change: Stage, Screen and Runway

 Jean Paul Gaultier's SS19 couture creations inspired by the sea with "shark fin" shoulders and here a bodice and flowing skirt like coral and seaweed. Cover picture and main photograph by Elli Ioannou for DAM
French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier presented one of his best new collections in Paris, with inspirations from sea creatures to Japanese kimonos. This lively Spring/Summer 2019 haute couture show is also the culmination of his work outside fashion including his successful cabaret at the Folies Bergere and a new documentary about the theatrical show, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Additional reporting and photographs by Elli Ioannou

 Dita Von Teese walks the
runway for Jean Paul Gaultier
in Paris
JEAN Paul Gaultier's ebullient and joyous new spring couture show reflects the success of his Fashion Freak Show cabaret at the Folies Bergere in Paris, now extended until April, and a new documentary coming out called Jean Paul Gaultier Freak And Chic. The new haute couture collection, shown at his headquarters in the Marais, began with glasses of champagne, adding to the frothy and celebratory atmosphere. French actress Catherine Deneuve was seated in the front row and burlesque artist Dita Von Teese was on the runway in a sheer gown cinched at the waist (see at left).

The designer said this collection was inspired by all things related to the deep sea and Japan. Many of the gowns' colour, texture and swirling movement reflect the hue and watery swirl of seaweed, coral and jellyfish. There was also a distinctly Japanese aesthetic mixed with high, pointy shoulders that Gaultier describes as "shark fins".

"There are some Japanese influences that are quite fascinating," the designer said backstage. "There are also lots of pleats ~ the whole collection is pleated ~ I even made pleated thigh boots." The key themes of the collection are transparency, pleats, 3D details and Japanese paniers. Gaultier also took the underwired corset and twisted it into new forms. "Normally the structure of crinolines is well behaved but I turned them around and spread them out," he explains. "We worked with three dimensions, especially with the embroidery. Inspired by Japan, the Japanese obi becomes a piece of clothing with reliefs that are in three dimensions with layers of bubbles. We play with transparency while using really light fabrics."

"There are some Japanese influences that are quite fascinating. It’s also full of pleats ~ the whole collection is pleated and I even made pleated thigh boots"
Deep sea blue gown with diaphanous
pleating from shoulder to ankle

Mr. Gaultier is well known for his signature French sailor look, the Breton top, and he created a new iteration of this for the opening look of the couture show with a diaphanous, striped blouse and a long, filmy gown in deep blue, pleated from the peaked shoulders down to the swirling skirt (see at right). Other motifs included beautiful pinstriped suits and shell-like dresses with the corset structure seen beneath transparent fabrics.

The clever mix of fan pleats, high shoulders and stripes gave depth and three dimensionality to the whole collection. A black-and-white dress had stripes running up from the ankle to curving around one shoulder, that was deceptively simple but showed Gaultier's superb skill as a couturier (see below in the gallery). 

The designer's muse Anna Cleveland, who is also featured in the cabaret show, wore an organza, pleated gown with full sleeves and long, dark lapels (see below). Like the other models, she had vividly coloured, crimped hair that added to the sense of magical, sea creatures covered in sparkling jewels.

Overall the collection ranged from sailor shirts to corsets with hand-made details created in Mr. Gaultier's ateliers. Most of the suit jackets had the pointed "shark fin" shoulders and pleats were fanned across belts and ruffled along the top of tall boots. The sculptural corset dresses were overlaid with floating, opalescent fabrics and the brightly coloured striped pantsuits were mixed with long, draped gowns. The punk geisha girls wore gleaming, bright fabrics with high waists and big bow ties.

Anna Cleveland wears the
signature quirky Gaultier
wedding dress
Coco Rocha wore a pale, sea blue hooped turquoise organza dress that seemed to move like a sea creature in water (see in gallery below). Dita Von Teese, who also made a cameo in Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show, was one of the highlights of the runway show with her seductive swaying walk. Anna Cleveland closed the show in a jaunty white wedding dress shaped like an upturned Japanese lantern (see at left).

Mr. Gaultier has found that his iconoclastic aesthetic, that shocked audiences as a young designer, is now part of the zeitgeist. His early collections worn by men and women featured models of different shapes, ages and ethnicity.
He broke down stereotypes ~ but it has taken decades for the rest of the fashion world to catch up.

The designer originally trained with Pierre Cardin and later at the Jean Patou fashion house. By the time he started out on his own in 1976, he already had a taste for runway shows that showed a wide range of different models who exuberantly wore his avant-garde designs. By the early 1980s, Mr. Gaultier had become well known for playing with traditional gender roles and his work inspired by streetwear and popular culture plus his use of models who were androgynous and tattooed and often didn't fit the rake thin frame considered the ideal in fashion.

Jean Paul Gaultier's iconoclastic androgynous aesthetic as a young designer is now part of the zeitgeist

Japanese inspired creations were one of
 the designer's key motifs for the
new SS19 collection
The new documentary Jean Paul Gaultier Freak And Chic, tells the story of Gaultier’s cabaret show at the Folies Bergères. Directed by Yann L’Hénoret, the film follows Mr. Gaultier for six months as he creates the Fashion Freak Show cabaret showing his life and career with clips from Madonna, Rossy de Palma and Catherine Deneuve.

The cabaret show is produced by music producer Thierry Suc for the Folies Bergères and has had a full house every night since it opened to the public last October, now to be extended until late April 2019. Mr. Suc, who has worked with some of France’s best known musicians and artists, has said the show will be taken around the world, and depending on the country, will be adapted to appeal to local audiences.

Mr. Gaultier approached Thierry Suc with the idea of the show and the pair worked together to create a cinematic experience combining cabaret with fashion shows and film.

Cesar-winning Tonie Marshall co-directed the show and worked with Marion Motin, a dancer and choreographer who’s previously worked on Madonna concerts. Nile Rodgers, who has worked with Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna and Daft Punk, created the soundtrack for the Fashion Freak Show. The designer says the music from disco to funk and from pop to rock and new wave is a playlist that has inspired him throughout his life.

By the early Eighties, he was playing with traditional gender roles and drawing inspiration from streetwear and popular culture

Black and white elegance is
is given an avant-garde edge with
leather and fine pleating 
Mr. Gaultier had always been enthralled by the Folies Bergere and the dramatic, glimmering costumes of sparkling sequins and feathers. The cabaret is Gaultier's own revue about his life seen through music and dance. Where the show is held is suitably historic, an Art Deco theatre that was remodelled in 1926, but founded even earlier in 1869. It is the right background for Mr. Gaultier's show and costumes, that includes the conical bra design that was created for Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour.

Some of the cabaret's scenes show the designer's early fashion shows that were more like theatrical events, given even more of an edge by his punk aesthetic and use of recycled materials. Mr. Gaultier believes it is a new form of theatre that combines both a revue and a fashion show and includes actors, dancers and circus performers with dozens of specially designed new outfits.

He wants to take the audience on a journey from his childhood and early career to his most flamboyant fashion shows and nights spent at Le Palace and London.Video is part of the show and includes Catherine Deneuve plus Anna Cleveland, one of the show's ensemble cast, who makes striking, styled poses.

Like Mr. Gaultier's haute couture show in Paris, the cabaret at the Folies Bergere is suffused with the couturier's joie de vivre and creative energy that seems to reach out and embrace everyone both on stage and the runway and also those in the audience standing up in the aisles dancing and clapping to the pop anthems.

Tap on the gallery of photographs to see more highlights from the collection
A classic pinstripe suit completely reimagined into a charming folly with a pleated belt, curving poplin jacket lined in bright pink with matching tights
Turning Japanese, Jean Paul Gaultier's inspirations from Japan with the obi and strongly patterned, bright fabrics

Pleated, high boots in sea greens and a crinkled, colourful hair were standouts in the collection 

Fine pleats were even used to create 3D belts, here on leather trousers worn with a short white jacket and filmy, striped blouse

"Shark fin" shoulders were a leitmotif of the entire collection adding zest and drama to jackets and dresses

Sea creatures were the inspiration for many of the gowns including these fluid concoctions in Coral Pink and swirling
Seaweed Green

 A tuxedo jacket is given a quirky edge with it's pointy, one shouldered design and its mix with a pleated short skirt and long boots

Coral hues and the colours of the deep sea gave the collection both depth and cohesion

Anna Cleveland wears a white, finely pleated gown with long lapels like a haute couture martial arts outfit

The brilliant simplicity of stripes from the ankle curving up over the shoulder, a tour de force of couture skill

The use of superbly fine pleating on this blouse's shoulders and cuffs creates an elegant yet striking look 

Coco Rocha wears a pale, sea blue hooped turquoise organza dress that seemed to move like a sea creature in water

Who knew sharply pointed shoulders and finely pleated, high boots would make such an engaging combination?  

Jean Paul Gaultier took is signature run down the catwalk before stopping to smile at this guests

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Interview: Couturier Guo Pei's Art of Fashion

One of Guo Pei's highly structured creations inspired by Gothic architecture for her Fall 2018 haute collection collection held at Paris'  Cité de l’Architecture. This photograph and cover picture, from the Spring 2018 show, by Elli Ioannou.

Couturier Guo Pei's rise and rise continues with a new documentary film about her life, Yellow is Forbidden, that premiered at New York's Tribeca Film Festival, and a major new exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. We take a look back at her most recent dramatic couture shows, before the new collection is launched in Paris this week. Jeanne-Marie Cilento talks to the designer about her life and work. Additional reporting and photography by Elli Ioannou. Interview translated from the Mandarin by Ella Palermo Patera

Designer Guo Pei at her Fall 2018
 couture show in Paris
ELFIN and charming, Guo Pei exudes a light, effusive energy and speaks in a soft, lilting voice that belies the grit that has taken her from Beijing's Second Light Industry School in Maoist China to the top of the Paris world of haute couture today. She started her career when fashion was at its very infancy in China but worked her way to the heart of  European couture as the first Chinese designer to be invited to become a guest member of Paris' Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

The dramatic, yellow caped concoction that Rihanna wore to New York's Met ball three years ago brought her to the attention of the world, beyond the rarefied circle of high fashion. Guo Pei's work stands out each season in Paris as her collections are all imbued with a poetic vision that may be inspired by Gothic architecture or the sheen on a ball of antique golden thread.

There is a superlative intricacy to her designs and a virtuosity that even exceeds the expectations of Parisian haute couture. While big brands are making their couture collections more wearable, Gup Pei's are all about creating mystery and magic with teetering headdresses and heels and dresses with wide panniers. Her collections are about art and ideas not selling clothes.

There is a superlative intricacy to Guo Pei's designs and a virtuosity that even exceeds the expectations of Parisian haute couture

 Like a domed cupola, an evocative
 and complex dress from Fall 2018
"Haute couture is my favourite," Guo Pei says. "It is not made for commercial gain, but more for a kind of inner quest, a satisfaction of our spiritual being. It is not like building a brand and making commercial designs.

"I think the pursuit of humankind gradually evolves from the practical to the spiritual realm. When people talk about haute couture, it’s not about the form but a kind of inner spirit. This passion comes from being able to manifest yourself, to express yourself. "

Guo Pei began as the only designer making high fashion clothes in China when it was against Communist ideology and yet now she has a large atelier in Beijing with teams of artisans who do the extraordinary hand work her gowns demand, some taking years to finish.

Her creations are brought to life directly from her imagination and she can allow her collections to take flights of fancy knowing that the skills of her team can bring them to life. She sees her couture designs in terms of art works rather than utilitarian pieces to wear.

"Haute couture is not made for commercial gain, but more for a kind of inner quest, a satisfaction of our spiritual being"

"I think when creating art, in order to put your love and emotion into your work, you really need to have a devoted attitude," the designer says. "Art is not a means or method of pursuing self-interests, it is more about sharing, about disseminating a kind of influence amongst human beings. So I really hope my work can influence people, can influence this world. The recognition I have today, I think it is more importantly due to my work.

Reflections of a gilded
gown from Spring 2018
"In society now, a lot of designers and artists work on their personal branding and deliberately market themselves, but I think all of this must be founded on your work. To be honest, I myself am not very good at networking, and personally I feel that I’m not very good at facing society in those terms.

"A designer or an artist can maintain their influence for a long time based on their work, not based on their personal branding. I enjoy focusing on my creations and they carry with them genuine emotion, love and something that is very real, and I believe people are attracted to these qualities."

Gothic architecture, the opulence of ancient China, Nature's growing plants, roots and flowers and the beauty of rare materials are just some of the inspirations for Guo Pei's haute couture shows in Paris. The artisanal work and skill that goes into the gowns are unusual even in the world of couture, some of the sequining can take several years to complete in her Beijing atelier. Guo Pei's palette of brilliant, glistening colours often includes Royal blues, electric reds and shimmering silver and gold ~ the colour she believes represents the soul.

 "I think when creating art, in order to put your love and emotion into your work, you really need to have a devoted attitude"

She designs couture that is all made to order and is completed by hand as well. Each piece has an unusual attention to detail and her atelier uses traditional talismans of good luck and longevity in her embroidery, such as the symbol of the dragon, butterfly and phoenix. The designers draws from her own cultural heritage combined with influences from 1920s and 1950s Western haute couture. Contemporary yet luxurious gowns are Pei's signature.

Flowers and growing plants were the inspiration
for the Spring 2018 collection
"I am the first designer in China to start making evening gowns, high fashion and haute couture," she comments. " I think I have been very fortunate, because the Chinese often have a saying that goes, 'the times create heroes'. Sometimes, you might not be able to build your whole life based on talent alone. It has been my fortune to have been born into a very good era."

Although now based in Paris, Pei was born in Beijing and studied fashion there, graduating in 1986. Three years later, she had become a senior designer at one of city's independently owned clothing companies, leaving in 1997 to set up her own fashion brand with her husband, textile magnate Jack Tsao. Pei's fashion style is still influenced by designs from the traditional Chinese imperial court and many luxurious pieces in her collection are made using silk, fur and embroidery.

Before she came to Paris, Guo Pei's work included fashion collections in Beijing and designs for the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics where she designed the dress worn by Song Zuying during her duet with Plácido Domingo. The dress had 200,000 Swarovski crystals hand-sewn into the white gown. Pei has also done costume design for the film The Monkey King which was nominated for a Hong Kong Film Award. Pei’s works have exhibited around the world including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
 "In today’s society, a lot of designers and artists work on their personal branding and deliberately market themselves, but all of this must be founded on your work"

Made entirely of bamboo, a creation from Spring 2018
made by artisans from Huangshan in Anhui, China,  
"I have been working in the Chinese fashion design industry for almost 30 years, which has only really matured during that time,'' says Guo Pei. "Entering into the fashion industry in China felt like a natural thing to me, because my early experience was also at the birth of Chinese fashion. I’ve seen a lot, from when I first started studying fashion design when nobody really knew what fashion design was, to after I graduated when so-called “brands” first started to emerge in China, which was very vague as a concept. When the masses started to follow fashion and follow trends, a lot of people on the street at that time were wearing the same clothes, because they thought that being fashionable meant being the same as everybody else."
One of Guo Pei's outstanding collections was Legend that went on to be exhibited around the world including at the National Gallery in Melbourne. The designer chose the stony glory of Paris' Conciergerie as the backdrop to the Spring/Summer 2017 show because of its medieval history and connection to mythical kings and queens. If haute couture is about imagination, fantasy and exploring the realms between fashion, art and theatre, this ebullient show in Paris embodied it all. Her opulent collection made a strong contrast to Paris Couture Week's other pragmatic presentations that were more like ready-to-wear.

The brilliant woven gold fabric that Guo Pei used in
her extraordinary Spring 2017 Legend show
The enthralling collection was held in a French Gothic palace imbued with a richness and magic that only two years work and 500 artisans can bring to fruition. The Legend collection was originally inspired by a trip that Guo Pei took when she visited the Swiss town of St. Gallen, well know for its embroidery and specialist fabric workshops. She was there to meet textile manufacturer Jakob Schlaepfer's art director Martin Leuthold.

He took her to visit the town's cathedral where she became so engrossed with the paintings of the frescoed dome and the brilliant gold of the interior, she missed her plane. This turned out to be the inspiration for the Paris collection including using the cathedral's archive of medieval architectural drawings to create the printed silks. Afterwards she worked closely with Leuthold to create gleaming woven gold fabric from metal fibre and silk thread.

"For this collection that was later shown at the NGV in Melbourne, a lot of people thought that the pieces in the collection are no longer clothes that are wearable but they invoke thought and emotion in people," the designer says. "So for this collection I’m not so much a designer as an artist, which makes me very happy, because I believe art is humankind’s language that has no borders.

"For this collection I’m not so much a designer as an artist, which makes me very happy, because I believe art is humankind’s language that has no borders"

A bejewelled and embroidery encrusted
creation from the Paris Spring 2017
Legend show
"Art can really make everyone think and make everyone feel something, and through art everyone can find a sense of belonging for the soul. Art is everlasting and never dies. So, when we are designing clothes, if we can turn the clothes into a representation of the times, of abundant emotions and of love, so that they become a spiritual sustenance, I think that is really the ultimate pursuit."

Guo Pei created a show imbued with a richness and opulence, especially the extraordinarily elaborate embroidery and bead work. She wanted to return to her design roots, making fashion more about art and ideas. She wanted the Legend collection to be a metaphor for the spirit of devotion and power of faith embodied in ancient architecture and hand-crafted design through the forms of medieval warriors, saints and goddesses.

Models wearing gold-encrusted gowns like monarchs and silvery ecclesiastical creations slowly made their way along the runway in Paris. There were tightly-laced, patterned bodices, billowing sleeves and bejewelled crosses. Crowns and crystal orbs above long, windswept hair completed the image of magnificent medieval queens.

"If we can turn designing clothes into a representation of our times, of abundant emotions and of love, so that they become a spiritual sustenance, I think that is really the ultimate pursuit"

"It was more than a year ago, when the director of the NGV contacted me about showing Legend at the Triennial exhibition, a comprehensive art exhibition bringing together the works of almost 100 artists from dozens of different countries around the world," explains Guo Pei. "I was really overjoyed, because I felt like I was no longer a designer but had become an artist. The reason I selected pieces from this collection is because it has a special significance for me. It is a summary of the 30 years of my career, and the 20 years that I have been working on this brand. "

"That collection was more complete; it is like a peak or a summary after I have grown to a certain stage," she comments today. "You can say that it is a complete reflection of my life, my ideological realm and my values over these 30 years. I called it “Legend” because I wanted it to invoke thought in a lot of people. From borrowing inspiration from the churches, to my decision to showcase the entire collection at an ancient Parisian prison, to Marie Antoinette, and even to my choice of featuring Carmen Dell'Orefice, an 87-year-old model, all of this is trying to convey a sense of devotion."

Three dimensional flowers and
crystalline platform shoes
Spring 2018
For her next and fifth Parisian show, Guo Pei's presented the collection at the Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione. Called Elysium, the show featured a poetic tree root on stage, made by paper artist Charles Macaire. This symbolized Guo Pei's belief in Nature as the source of life and the importance of roots both literally and metaphorically. Flowers and growing plants were the inspiration from the silhouette and forms to the embroidery and accessories.

"Haute couture sits at the tip of the pyramid and faces a very limited audience ~it is more about leaving behind certain memories for the world, whereas ready-to-wear will ultimately enter into our lives," says the designer.

"But I don’t really want to make the kind of very industrialised fashion that people see these days. I hope that every single item I create, regardless of whether it is haute couture or ready-to-wear, will accompany you for a long time in your life, instead of being discarded along with the passage of time."

For Guo Pei, time is always pressing as her position in Paris means she must create two haute couture shows a year. She says the greatest satisfaction is when she can make new developments in design and technique. The designer says most of her designs are ultimately meant for people to wear and it is this work that sustains the more elaborate, artistic creations which call for enormous skill and time.

"Haute couture sits at the tip of the pyramid and is for a very limited audience ~ it is more about leaving behind certain memories for the world, whereas ready-to-wear ultimately enters our lives"

Guo Pei's remarkable sculptural
skill that combines whimsy
and technical mastery
Spring 2018
"I would really like to find a new path for ready-to-wear fashion in contrast to couture. The kind that I would like to create is the kind that will awaken your love, so I hope that my ready-to-wear clothing will also convey that same sense of devotion. As to how to make it more universal and acceptable to more people ~ this is actually something I am currently thinking very hard about. I think in the not-so-distant future, soon, people will be able to see my ready-to-wear collection."

The Spring 2018 couture Elysium show had a twilight colour palette with dark blue floral embroideries that evoked the mystery of that hour and its sfumatura colours. The models all wore towering crystalline platform shoes that extended the line, like the stem of a flower. Guo pei wanted to represent the life force as roots and flowers, as the sources of vitality.

While Guo Pei's fabrics are made in Switzerland, the atelier located in the Chaoyang District of Beijing makes the intricate embroideries. From the Gothic theme of Legend to the exploration of nature in the Elysium collection, the search for the divine is a key motif in the Guo Pei's work.  She believes gold embodies both knowledge and wealth.

"Perhaps many people would consider everything I have done so far as having reached a certain level of success, but to me it is only just a beginning," she explains. "What’s important is that the future is built on your foundations. I think my last 30 years have helped me build a very solid foundation, but I am only just standing on the starting line today. So I believe there will still be another 30 years for me going forward, and I hope my work will really become accepted by more and more people. If one day, my work could be remembered like that of Dior or Chanel, I think it would be a life very well lived. "

"Perhaps many people would consider everything I have done so far as having reached a certain level of success, but to me it is only just a beginning"

Severe and yet magical, an
architectural skyline
in black tracery
Fall 2018
For her most recent collection for Fall 2018,  Guo Pei’s show was held amid the ancient sculptures of the Romanesque gallery of the Cité de l’Architecture. This collection was overtly architectural with wide, structured panniered skirts, embroideries like Gothic stone tracery and patterns and designs like the silhouette of a cityscape or a ball gown shaped like a cupola. Guo Pei described her inspiration as wanting to evoke architecture’s “beauty of strength” with designs that demonstrated “a dialogue between the human body and spatial dimension.”

The technical mastery was evinced by creating architectural details into dresses, such as flying buttresses twisted into bodices or platforms with heels like columns, dresses like gilded spires and necklines in black tracery. Many of the designs were in black, giving the collection a modern, Goth look and gave a contemporary edge to her spiritual whims.

"If you ask me about the future of fashion, I believe it will experience more change," she says. "In fact everyone is thinking about it now ~ there is just too much ready-made clothing and no one is really in need of “that dress” anymore. Often when we go looking for new clothes, we can’t feel that sense of being drawn to something. Perhaps too many choices are making people feel more disorientated.

"I hope a fashion will emerge that is more universal than haute couture, but higher and more lasting than ready-to-wear, that no longer pursues temporary popularity. I think 'popularity' can sometimes make people feel very lost: something might have just come out onto the market ~ a new creation, a new design ~ but after less than two or three months it has already become outdated. I hope for a kind of stability that will allow a lot of designs to assimilate into everyone’s daily life and to accompany you for a long time to come ~ that would be my ideal."