Sunday, November 25, 2012

GUO PEI: Exclusive Interview

By Eva Fydrych

"Success means never giving up"

Guo Pei designs (Photos courtesy of Getty Images & AFP) Click to enlarge

Guo Pei, one of China's top fashion designers, became famous for her extravagantly made gowns that are close to perfection. In 1997, she established Beijing Rose Studio, which made her the pioneer of Chinese Haute Couture.

In an exclusive interview for Fashion Studio Magazine, Guo Pei discusses the Chinese fashion market and her successful journey as a couture designer. She also talks about her unique approach to fashion design and reveals some of her ambitious plans for the future.

Guo Pei

Occupation: Fashion Designer
City: Beijing, China

Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei at her studio in Beijing, May 2012 (©AFP)

FASHION STUDIO: You started your fashion career at a very early age and became one of the first professional designers in China. What difficulties did you face in the beginning? 

GUO PEI: From my point of view, everyone needs to build his or her career path step by step, which means that the very idea of making progress is encountering problems, solving them, and moving on. After all these years, I may have faced many problems, but they tend to escape from my memories after I fought with them and won.

For instance, starting my own business - I graduated around 1985 to 1986 and I was one of the first designers in China, when "designer" was not even a recognised profession in this place. This is actually not a bad thing, considering that the local market and consumers were totally unfamiliar with this business, I learnt a lot and become more sophisticated with them, even though I was not a true master back then. I had been given the most generous understanding and support - it might be hard for you to imagine that all the people were dressed in the exact same outfits on the streets, and that means thousands of thousands of people. And if you had put on something new, your neighbour would run out and got the same thing immediately. But in the meantime, the social environment had given designers the most generous understanding, which was why I found myself very lucky.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Starting on my own was not easy - that was back in 1997, I had worked in this trade for over ten years and I was starting to become "someone". I did not think about any difficulty back then, just about my dream - to make more beautiful clothes, to introduce designs that cannot be done in the market, to create a free stage for myself. But as the business got developed, I started to realize the pressure of making a living, and that meant money matters. So I learnt to take care of both: the profit and continuous development for the company, and my own dream and creation. I was always trying to find the perfect balance of both, which was why I waited for ten years for my debut show. Ten years was a long wait, and it was also how I found myself back again – there was time when I almost forgot my dream, lost in the struggles for keeping my company. I have been there – unable to pay my team, having to do everything by my own hands with no time to live my own life, even when I was expecting my first child – but I never gave up. I do not like making choices in life, because choosing something means that you have to give up something else – and I have always wanted them all, a happy family, two cute daughters, career success, my own label, as well as becoming a designer with my own collection.

Never giving up is the principle of my life and my way of overcoming difficulties. I am currently facing new obstacles by introducing and promoting the idea of the Wedding Gown of China and the Brides of China – this is the major difficulty for me at the moment, because I need to start from scratch. The process of building up an idea requires me to work hard, not expecting instant gains, but still keeping my eyes on the prize. In that way, I would say life itself is also a long procedure of solving problems after problems.

Guo Pei Autumn/Winter 2010 (Photo by Getty Images)

FASHION STUDIO: What was the inspiration for your first collection? 

GUO PEI: I have been a designer for 26 years, with several thousands of pieces made. I had my show over a decade ago, with expressions of my thoughts. However, my debut Haute Couture collection was not introduced until the year of 2006; it was named “The Circle of Life”.

I firstly thought about creating this collection when I was in Musée de l’Armée – Hôtel National des Invalides in Paris, France, admiring the uniforms from Napoleonic era. Standing in front of the beautifully constructed uniforms, I felt deeply moved and inspired, thinking about how these people fought for their dignity by wearing the perfect uniforms even in the times when their lives could end any minute. It was the true respect of life – holding the exquisite swords and putting on the uniforms with breath-taking charms. I couldn't help my tears while being so moved by such attitude, feeling the urge to express my feelings and to sing the praises of life. Modern war is like an atomic bomb – you do not even get a chance to look at the field before dying in the sudden attack.

Also, I watched Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride at that time. I saw the groom-to-be practicing his vows by a small river bank under the moonlight, he did not feel right, and then all of a sudden he found the perfect expression – placing the wedding band on a dead branch, which turned out to be a finger of a corpse bride. The corpse bride was running under the moon, wearing remaining pieces of her wedding gown before dying, beautiful as she should have been. It is like the true perfection revived from beyond the grave.

These two thoughts inspired me to create a collection under the idea of “Circle of Life”, gradually developed into four stages – night glory, moonlight, break of dawn, and sunshine – to complete the circle of life by time and colours, together with history. It seems a shame to me when I see a lot of wonderful techniques are forgotten and lost through time – instead of digging up from the tomb and trying to reinvent the lost arts, we should inherit these amazing treasure all along. And I consider all of the above as my inspiration for the first Haute Couture collection. A designer’s work should be his or her understandings and expressions of life. 

The studio of Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei. (©AFP)

FASHION STUDIO: What kind of fabrics do you use for your designs? 

GUO PEI: I am all about perfection. I have been adapting the strictest standards from the very beginning, using the best fabrics in the world. I have been to a yarn factory in Italy near a snow mountain that sits in Switzerland, with over 100 years of history. My husband also gave me a lot of support on this matter, his family has been in fabric business for a long time, and he always introduces the best to me. I have been to Filatura Di Crosa and learnt to make yarns by myself, trying out seven kinds a day. 

FASHION STUDIO: You were chosen to design the ceremonial dresses for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Could you tell us more about this project? 

GUO PEI: That was a unique and unforgettable experience, completely different from my regular works - it takes me several minutes to create an ordinary piece, but it takes ten months to finish the design of the ceremonial dresses for the Beijing Olympics. I once felt very upset during the progress of development, with all the revision back and forth, I almost lost my inspiration, because it was not just fashion design. I learnt a lot from that experience, realizing that design is like a special kind of language, it should be about expression - not the expression of myself, but the expression of China, and of how Chinese people see the Olympics. I learnt to be selfless. This should not be about me as a designer, but about our nation's attitude towards the Olympics.

This had been a big step forward for me, from which I became much more sophisticated as a designer, because now I know how to fulfill someone else's dream by my design. From then, my works can be seen as two kinds - there is work, which means what I want to present personal, subjective (I would ask the model to step on a pair of shoes with heels that are 40cm high, or to wear a garment that is extraordinarily heavy, and I would insist in having Carmen Dell'Orefice in one of my pieces because only she is the only right choice); and there is service, which means all the designs that have no "me", like the ones for the Olympics, China's TV soirée on Lunar New Year's Eve, and celebrities' dresses for red carpets. 

Placido Domingo and Song Zuying performing on the closing gala of the Beijing Olympic Games.
Song is wearing Guo Pei's design with 200,000 crystals on it (Photo courtesy of

FASHION STUDIO: How would you describe your personal style? 

GUO PEI: Sunny, warm, and positive. All of my works are trying to bring out the idea of love, positivity, tenderness and perfection. There is no extreme emotion in my creation. My collection is all about enjoying life and spreading the joy. I love exquisite techniques - not only the ones originated from China, but also the beautiful skills from all over the world, luxurious, delicate and faultless. It takes time, but in return I will have created something very feminine, intensive, powerful and deluxe. 

FASHION STUDIO: Who is your fashion icon? 

GUO PEI: I love people, in general. A lot of designers have inspired me, Gabrielle Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and many others. But it is hard to pick only one fashion icon. 

FASHION STUDIO: What are the best fashion spots in Shanghai and Beijing? 

GUO PEI: Shanghai is more like the bourgeois style, with attention to details and emotions; Beijing is full of grandness and great atmosphere – in terms of location, I would consider my own style closer to the city of Beijing. I would say 751 D-Park Tank in Beijing [one of the premier cultural and creative clusters in Beijing, blending its old industrial landscape with design, fashion and promoting international design exchanges], and Bund 22 in Shanghai.

FASHION STUDIO: What would you say about street fashion in China? How do people dress?

GUO PEI: I am personally not very familiar with the street style. Sometimes I browse the fashion snaps from the streets, but I do not get a lot of time to observe the streets. But considering that younger people are often representing the city’s street style, I would say China’s major cities are showing some very international fashion. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

FASHION STUDIO: What are the 5 essential items that every woman should have in her wardrobe?

GUO PEI: A fabulous gown to show off the sexy charms, beautiful shoes, handbag, a suit that makes you feel good about being a professional because that is also very important in life, and a set of exquisite lingerie, just to be good to yourself with every little detail of perfection. 

FASHION STUDIO: Your favourite quote...

GUO PEI: In order to become a successful designer, you need to keep repeating youself and learning from such repetition. It might take ten years, with like a thousand of designs created each year, but eventually you will get there – success means never giving up. 

FASHION STUDIO: What projects are you currently working on? Could you reveal a little bit about your upcoming collections?

GUO PEI: I have just launched a grand store on the Bund in Shanghai – China Bride Haute Couture Mansion. Introducing the Wedding Gown of China in a brand new way means a lot to me, and of course with new challenges and stress. 

FASHION STUDIO: How about your future plans? What else would you like to achieve?

GUO PEI: I will go on, trying my best to do something that can be remembered for my nation, and never give up. I will consider my goal achieved if wearing a wedding dress in our own national style becomes the first thing a girl thinks when the idea of marriage emerges on her mind. I hope to contribute to the heritage of our cultural by doing this. My aim for the next five or ten years is for this to become reality, leading this nation's wedding styles. Maybe by then someone will recognise that Guo Pei is the first one to do this.

Plus, I want to introduce my own fashion dolls in the next two to three years by dressing them in my works and making them internationally well known. Every girl has a world of fairytale inside her heart, full of love and dreams from childhood, which is why I think dolls can bring back childhood fun and memories. And of course there are a lot of things I would like to do, just as anyone does, through different stages of life. I believe I will be making a lot progress as time goes by, experiencing and cherishing every little moment in life.

Design by Guo Pei (©AFP)

‘‘I always have a desire to create something that is fashion and is not fashion. So a dress ends up weighing 50 kilos! Every piece is not fashion anymore. It’s sculpture; it’s painting. I want to put all that into a dress.’’ - Guo Pei

Guo Pei Autumn/Winter 2010 (Photo by Getty Images)

Hong Kong Fashion Week 2010 (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Hong Kong Fashion Week 2010 (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Guo Pei's The Arabian 1002th Night collection (Photo courtesy of  CFP)

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Backstage at Digital Fashion Week, 23 October 2012, Singapore (Photo courtesy of DFW)

Backstage at Digital Fashion Week, 23 October 2012, Singapore (Photo courtesy of DFW)

Backstage at Digital Fashion Week, 23 October 2012, Singapore (Photo courtesy of DFW)

Guo Pei's The Arabian 1002th Night collection (Photo courtesy of  CFP)

Guo Pei's The Arabian 1002th Night collection (Photo courtesy of  CFP)

Guo Pei's The Arabian 1002th Night collection (Photo courtesy of  CFP)

A male opera performer (front) acting in a female role walks the runway during the Rose Studio Guo Pei Kun Opera Fashion Show at D-Park Plaza on April 26, 2010 in Beijing. (Photo courtesy of Life Magazine)

Guo Pei’s platform shoes inspired by Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (Photo courtesy of Trendhunter)

Guo Pei’s platform shoes (Photo courtesy of Zimbio)

Guo Pei's The Arabian 1002th Night collection (Photo courtesy of  CFP)

Guo Pei's The Arabian 1002th Night collection (Photo courtesy of CFP)

Guo Pei will be showing her "Legend of the Dragon" collection at Asian Couture Evening 2012 on Tuesday 27 November at 6pm.

*Special thank you to Guo Pei and World of Mouth Communications for making this interview possible.


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