Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Couturier Guo Pei's Universe of Mysticism and Magic

Like a field of marigolds, Guo Pei's extraordinary embroidered silk chiffon creation, that took seven years to make. A virtuoso feat of couture, the flowery tableau was the last look of her Paris AW19/20 show. All photography including cover picture by Elli Ioannou.
Highlighting Guo Pei's growing stature as a potent creative force in fashion, the couturier showed an intriguing new collection in Paris last month and a retrospective of her work in Singapore opened at the Asian Civilisations Museum. We take a look backstage at her Autumn/Winter 2019/20 haute couture show called Alternate Universe. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography for DAM in Paris by Elli Ioannou

Roman statues in creamy marble
at the Cour vitrée flank
Guo Pei's gowns
GUO PEI is a couturier who brings intelligence and poetry to her work and a questing spirit. Along with the whimsical flights of fancy she takes with the themes of her haute couture collections, she also likes to explore new fabrics and techniques. Her latest collection uses pineapple skins to create otherworldly gowns.

The designer chooses the location to present her couture collections in Paris with a great deal of thought, melding the motifs of the designs with the architecture of the space. This season, she held her show under the glimmering glass roof of the Cour Vitrée inside the Palais des Études, at the École des Beaux-Arts.

The oldest and most prestigious fine art school in Paris, it is located on the left bank, across the Seine from the Louvre, in the 6th arrondissement, at 14 rue Bonaparte. The École des Beaux-Arts has a history spanning more than three centuries with a long roster of students who went on to become Europe's greatest artists. The Beaux Arts ethos and teaching was based on the study of classical antiquities, including Greek and Roman statues.

The Cour Vitrée, glassed over by architect Félix Duban in 1863, was once lined with Roman classical statuary and full-size copies of the Parthenon's columns, so that they could be studied by students. Today, there are still sculptures in pale, creamy travertine marble (see image above). They form the perfect backdrop to Guo Pei's long, columnar gowns in the ivory-hued pineapple fabric that has a rich, lustrous texture suitable for draping.

Guo Pei is a couturier who brings intelligence and poetry to her work and a questing spirit

Opening the show were twins
in richly embroidered bodices
and panniers
The silhouettes of the dresses are inspired by European civilisation, from the fluid lines of Grecian drapery and flowing Italian ecclesiastical robes to Baroque ruffs and the wide panniers of Renaissance skirts. A subtle background palette of light gold and grey gave the collection a cohesive look suggesting Greek statuary, despite the sumptuous embroidery.

The final look of the Paris show (see main picture above) was like a field of marigolds amid green grass, all created from embroidered silk chiffon and tulle that Guo Pei said took her atelier seven years to make. The model glided out wearing this flowery tableau ~ a virtuoso feat of couture ~ carrying a crowned, bejewelled black crow.

This creation summarised the sense of magic and mystery that infused the entire show, from the opening pair of conjoined twins in a heavily embroidered black and gold gown with white powdered faces, (see at right). They appeared on the runway underneath an arch of entwined black branches inhabited by crows. The design of the twin's panniers or side hoops originates in the 17th and 18th centuries when skirts were wide at the side, leaving the front and back flat. Guo Pei used these panels to display her elaborate decorations and rich embroidery.

A sense of magic and mystery infused this season's haute couture show

The fluttering leaves of this gown are
home to bees, beetles
and butterflies
Guo Pei called the new haute couture collection Alternate Universe as she wanted to explore transcendent ideas and philosophies about life beyond the physical realm. "I imagine it as a dream, an alternate universe, parallel to this world, where everything returns to its original state of true pureness and beauty," she said. "I see it as the start of a mysterious journey."

Beneath the transparent domed glass of the Cour Vitrée, Guo Pei created a sense of light and dark, a chiaroscuro world of strange creatures from conjoined twins to elfin figures with turned-up skirts and curly shoes.

"Humans are not masters of this world," she explained. "Monkeys sit on the king's throne under the guidance of prophets."

Animals and mystical symbols are embroidered on to dresses and capes in blue and red with an impasto richness. The designer uses crows in the collection ~ realistic fabric ones draped across shoulders and skirts ~ to symbolise the afterlife. She imagines them as the messengers of wisdom between one world and the next.

Guo Pei also created pearl snails and hand-embroidered, three dimensional beetles, spiders, butterflies and bees to  cover her gowns and represent mythological creatures (see image above). Animals from Aesop's fables are created by layers of stitching in deep blues and blacks with dashes of red and gold.

 A chiaroscuro world of strange creatures from conjoined twins in 18th century gowns to elfin figures in turned-up shoes

 Ruching, ruffling and rosettes
using pineapple hemp fabric with
an impasto of embroidery
Long, dramatic dresses depicted scenes of angels and demons, flocks of birds and esoteric motifs (see image at right). One gown even had an illuminated manuscript worn like a belt at the waist. Another one had a hooped skirt that when you looked closely was designed like a puppet theatre, with curtains and exquisitely dressed dolls.

Guo Pei built the collection around ideas of transcendence but also as an exploration of the qualities of pineapple hemp. Originally from the Philippines, this natural fibre is highly valued and has been widely used there for 400 years as it is light yet very strong.

The hemp is first extracted from the leaf fibre of pineapple plants and then put through seven different artisanal processes, all done by hand. It is spun, rinsed, dried and knotted to produce the fabric which has a natural creamy colour with a translucent and delicate texture. The pineapple fabric is the perfect foil for the collection's Grecian style silhouettes and Guo Pei's vision of mythological goddesses.

In this collection, she experiments with the pineapple material testing out different techniques, from ruffling and ruching to smocking and pleating. The fabric also forms the base for embellishments of pearls, feathers and Swarovski crystals. The pineapple leaf has a pale ivory colour that is a good neutral background for the splendid embroidery in silver and gold of creatures great and small.

The collection is built around ideas of transcendence and an exploration of pineapple hemp

 Backstage in Paris, a bird's
nest is created as a
headpiece
Backstage at the École des Beaux-Arts, before the show in Paris, Guo Pei's team were busy at work creating the elaborate hair and make-up to go with both her ethereal and extravagant creations. Bird's nests were created in piled-up locks and topped with feathered creatures. Heavily embroidered head pieces in glittering colours were carefully placed and matched with equally scintillating eye-shadows.

The make up worn by the models for this Autumn/Winter 2019/20 collection was imaginative and varied. Some models wore barely a dusting of pale powder and sparkles while others had dashes of electric blue around their eyes with a yellow-green powder on their cheeks. It took time and care for the models to be dressed in the complicated, dramatic gowns such as the dress with a blood-red heart with branches and flowers growing from its centre or the broad crinoline skirt designed with a theatre of  miniature dolls.

Guo Pei has mastered the delicate balance of creating conceptual shows full of engaging new ideas with the ability to design desirable and wearable pieces. Amid the birds with jewelled, ruby-red eyes and opulently embroidered beetles were romantic, fluid gowns with full sleeves and flattering waists and slim bodysuits with capelets that could be worn on a night out in Paris. All of Guo Pei's creations are imbued with the magical and mystical yet she brings her terrific skill as a couturier to making them beautifully fit the human form.
 
Tap on images to see highlights of Guo Pei's collection in Paris and backstage before the show
A diaphanous, pineapple hemp gown depicting an illuminated manuscript in embroidery, worn like a belt at the waist of a leaf-like bodice.














An elfin figure wearing a turned-up, translucent skirt and curling shoes added to the sense of a fairytale atmosphere.
A long, fluid romantic gown with a beautiful, ruched bodice and full sleeves that shows Guo Pei's mastery of the ethereal and the wearable.
A blood-red heart with branches and flowers growing from its centre was one of the more abstract creations of Guo Pei's oeuvre.
The elaborate embroidery in blue, black and gold of this long cape give it an ecclesiastical look and depicts mystical figures and symbols and animals like a ram with curling horns.
 Guo Pei plays with forms, shapes and materials so that a dress becomes a living tableau that frames the model.
A jaunty bodysuit decorated with golden crystals and feathers and worn with a layered capelet with a high collar.
Opening the show were a pair of conjoined twins in black and gold gowns with white powdered faces. The panniers form panels where Guo Pei displays her elaborate decorations and rich embroidery.

The finale of the AW19/20 show evinced the remarkable variety of textures and fabrics Guo Pei managed to create
from pineapple skins.
A whimsical dress with a high bodice and full skirt with flowing, beribboned "curtains" framing rows of miniature dolls as puppets.


A gracefully, draped gown with a full skirt and long sleeves that could be easily be worn outside Guo Pei's mystical fashion show, sans the bird's nest. Photograph by Abbie Biegert

Backstage a model has a final touch up before she goes on to the runway wearing a dress made of fabric lilypad leaves, pearl snails and embroidered beetles.
The make-up worn by the models was suitably otherworldly with dustings of coloured powders and sparkles around the eyes and lips that were otherwise kept bare.
A feathered bird with a jewelled crown completes this outfit of gold-embossed pineapple hemp sewn with embroideries of all-seeing blue eyes.

Backstage this model wears a Renaissance-inspired dress finished with rows of tufted feathers and a bejewelled binding and topped by a birdcage with blackbird inside.

A faux-hawk adds a note of contemporary drama to this embroidered long jacket that shows an Aesop's Fables mix of monkeys and princesses and symbols of moons and suns.
Backstage at the École des Beaux-Arts, models wait to go on the runway, wearing shoes with flowered pom-poms and baroque neck ruffs made from woven pineapple fibre and gowns decorated with feathered birds and elaborately dressed dolls. 

This detail of a cape shot backstage shows the attention to detail and skill of the embroiderers in Guo Pei's ateliers. This ecclesiastical gown displays the eye, monkeys and serpents that are a leitmotif of this collection.

A monkey face embroidered in gold with blue eyes and three-dimensional fur embellishes this top with clever, elliptical sleeves and a poplin, pleated waist worn with a crocheted skirt.


Looking like a fairytale figure from Alice in Wonderland, a model waits backstage with a little, black feathered friend on her shoulder.
Backstage a model looks at her phone while an elaborate headpiece, resplendently embroidered with flowers, leaves and swags of black beads, is carefully put into place.

The versatility of pineapple fibre is exhibited in these two gowns worn backstage, showing how it can be woven to create different densities and transparencies.
Models wearing the lavishly embellished gowns that Guo Pei created from the humble pineapple skin which provides a great foil to the blue embroidery.

Coming out on to the runway under the Cour Vitrée, Guo Pei's collection of strange and splendid gowns entranced the audience. Photograph by Abbie Biegert.
 

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Jean Paul Gaultier's Couture Cabaret in Paris

A diaphanous gown showing Jean Paul Gaultier's masterful draping at his latest haute couture show in Paris. Cover picture and main image by Elli Ioannou for DAM

Jean Paul Gaultier's cabaret show has opened in London with the theatrical aesthetic that enlivens all of his fashion collections. We take a look at the highlights of his Autumn/Winter 2019/20 haute couture show in Paris, presented earlier this month. The new collection was full of playful optical illusions and had a stellar front row including French cinema icon Catherine Deneuve and fashion designer Alber Elbaz. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography by Elli Ioannou

Dramatic, feathery hats that look
like fur and tromp l'oeil
patterns inspired
Victor Vasarely
JEAN Paul Gaultier's revue, Fashion Freak Show, opened in London at Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall, after a long and successful run in Paris at the Folies Bergère, which began in October last year.

The theatrical aspect to his work is one of the keys to Gaultier's continuing success after 40 years at the forefront of French fashion and as the last couturier of his generation to be the creative director at a house that still bears his name.

This season's haute couture collection, shown in Paris at his headquarters in the Marais, was full of as much drama and glamour as his cabaret, with Catherine Deneuve, Alber Elbaz, Walter Van Beirendonck and Christine Aguilera in the frow.

Wilting in the heat of a hot summer Parisian afternoon, guests at the show ~ some dressed in ball gowns ~ were greeted with Champagne, ice-cream and elegant black fans, before stepping on to the runway for photographs.

As the show opened, the first outfits appearing on the catwalk to the sound of Eighties and Nineties techno music, there were uproarious shouts and clapping. This all added to the sense of theatre at a Gaultier show that is quite different to the whispering quiet of other couture presentations.

Gaultier is the last French couturier of his generation to front a fashion house that still bears his name in Paris

Animal motifs on a
flowing ball gown
Gaultier has said he will not use new fur in his collections. This led to him to use optical effects, new fabrics and trompe l'oeil instead this season, creating the illusion of fur in a playful way.

The Autumn/Winter 2019-2020 collection includes prints and fabrics that all have images that look like fur but are actually abstract patterns. The black and white gown (see at right) is made of a specially printed textile that has a swirling design featuring vertical panels with an animal motif and a feathered waist. 

Gaultier's introduced colourful jumpsuits that were body-hugging, with feathered sleeves and jackets, cape dresses and coats in faux fur. A black tuxedo suit was beautifully cut with multiple fans of fine pleats deftly rising above the shoulders and fanned out around the waist.

The designer said he built the collection around the notion of hoodies, from a brilliant lime-green quilted satin parka to the bride's conical pleated gown. Backstage Gaultier described how optical effects, the hoodie and quilting were key themes: "This time, I did fur coat pieces, which were not real fur," he said. "I went with the spirit of optical illusions, prints that resemble different types of fur. I did coats but they were a bit like Michelin men, they had fox-like effects but it wasn’t a fox-fur coat. "

Gaultier is not including new fur in his collections and this season he used optical effects and trompe l'oeil instead

Fine purple pleats form
transparent layers
for this fairytale
creation
The collection included transparent, pleated veils over pointed, cone-shaped hats, (see at left) enveloping overcoats, long jackets with high collars and lapels rising up behind the head and brightly-hued chiffon and satin gowns with voluminous sleeves.
There were even quilted boots that matched the colour of the clothes.

"I did hooded, cape-coat pieces, which are a bit like tents, sometimes with transparent parts, and even an evening gown," said Gaultier at the Paris show. "There are even hat pieces that could make you think about fairies for a moment."

The designer likes to create dreamscapes in his fashion shows, where the models could be characters from a high-brow novel or a popular comic. Gaultier remains convinced fashion plays an important role in our lives: “It’s about a need for visual recognition, staking a claim."

In his jovial, talkative way, Gaultier wants to upend clichés and conventions and then reinvent them, through the medium of his clothes. Two designs are highlights of his innovative work as a couturier: the reinvented corset and the man skirt.

He describes how when he was looking through the clothes of his grandmother he found confining corsets and waist-cinchers which he then redesigned to be a symbol of female power rather than imprisonment. As early as the Return of Prints collection (Women’s RTW Spring/Summer 1984), Gaultier was mixing the African and the European, draping models in tunics or caftan miniskirts and Moroccan hats.

The designer likes to create dreamscapes in his fashion shows, where the models could be characters from a high-brow novel or a popular comic

Hoodies were inspiration
for the new collection
The lofty ceilings and black runway of this season's show at Gaultier's HQ, allows the collection's drama and fantasy to stand out in the stark setting, even the more subtly coloured outfits. Apart from the bright dashes of colour, there was a tonal palette of white, cream and brown that added a contrasting note of earthy hues that worked with the use of animal motifs.

There were also Victor Vasarely look prints (see at right), inspired by the Hungarian-French artist, who was the leader of the Op art movement. The graphic rows of dots and gradations of colour gave a 3D quality to some of the designer's creations.

The collection's combinations of plaid, print, vivid colours, feathers and animal prints ~ mixed with catsuits and chainmail headpieces ~ could have been a raucous cacophony. But Gaultier manages to make each eccentric piece part of his orchestra of ideas, individual instruments playing his signature exuberant tune.

The premiere of the designer's Fashion Freak Show revue in London, gives the public a taste of his provocative Paris couture along with the story of his life. Gaultier's cabaret combines aspects of a revue, circus, catwalk show and party. The show comes to London direct from its extended run in Paris where it was well-reviewed and very popular with audiences in the French capital.

Gaultier makes each eccentric piece part of his orchestra of ideas, individual instruments yet all playing his signature exuberant tune

Body hugging jumpsuit
with feathered sleeves and
chainmail headpiece
Fashion Freak Show features more than 200 original catwalk creations by Gaultier, showing his life through his most well-known designs, from extravagant gowns to the man skirt and the conical bustier.

The revue also explores his childhood and early career looking at his greatest fashion shows to wild nights in Paris and London plus sharing his journal from those times.

Gaultier also pays tribute to those famous muses who have inspired him, such as film directors Pedro Almodovar and Luc Besson, singers Madonna and Kylie Minogue and dancers Régine Chopinot and Angelin Prejlocaj.

Like Gaultier's couture show in Paris, the music is key for the cabaret show and moves from disco to funk, pop to rock and new wave to punk. The playlist of hits are the backdrop to Gaultier's life.

Apart from the outfits from past collections, he has also designed many new creations especially for the show that are presented against a vivid and evocative set. Gaultier collaborated with actress, scriptwriter and director Tonie Marshall to co-direct the show and worked with Marion Motin on the choreography.

The designer creates a sense of theatre at all of his fashion shows, but this revue brings all of his talents together and is a celebration and summation of his work so far. It will be interesting to see what Gaultier comes up with for his big anniversary year in fashion that he will celebrate at next January's couture shows.

Tap on photographs for highlights of the AW1920 haute couture show in Paris
The theatrical aspect to his work is one of the keys to Gaultier's continuing success after 40 years at the forefront of French fashion.

Jean Paul Gaultier is the last couturier of his generation to be the creative director at a house that still bears his name.

Prints were inspired by the Hungarian-French artist, Victor Vasarely, who was the leader of the Op art movement. The graphic rows of dots and gradations of colour gave a 3D quality to some of the designer's creations.


This season's haute couture collection, shown in Paris at his headquarters in the Marais, was full of as much drama and glamour as his cabaret.

Gaultier has said he will not use new fur in his collections. This led to him to use optical effects as the inspiration for this season, creating the illusion of animal motifs in a playful way.
The designer said he built the collection around the notion of hoodies and caps in different shapes and forms. 

Gaultier recreates animal patterns and fur by using innovative fabric designs and optical illusions.
As the show opened, the first outfits appearing on the catwalk to the sound of Eighties and Nineties techno music, there were uproarious shouts and clapping.
Gaultier wants to upend clichés and conventions and then reinvent them, through the medium of his clothes.
The collection included transparent, pleated veils over pointed, cone-shaped hats, enveloping overcoats, long jackets with high collars and lapels rising up behind the head, brightly-hued chiffon and satin gowns with voluminous sleeves.

The sense of theatre at a Gaultier show is quite different to the whispering quiet of other couture presentations. 

 The designer likes to create dreamscapes in his fashion shows, where the models could be characters from a high-brow novel or a popular comic.
Gaultier remains convinced fashion plays an important role in our lives:“It’s about a need for visual recognition, staking a claim."
Apart from the bright dashes of colour, there was a tonal palette of white, cream and brown, adding contrasting earthy tones.
The lofty ceilings and black runway of this season's show at Gaultier's HQ, allowed the collection's drama and fantasy to stand out in the stark setting, including this leopard print gown wrapped in a bodice of belts.
The collection's combinations of plaid, print, vivid colours, feathers and animal prints ~ mixed with catsuits and chainmail headpieces ~ could have been a raucous cacophony.
 But Gaultier manages to make each eccentric piece part of his orchestra of ideas, individual instruments playing his signature exuberant tune.

The diaphanous bridal gown finished the show and was like a fluid, creamy tent, flowing from a conical hat.