SHE’S THE STAR BEHIND THAT INFAMOUS RIHANNA YELLOW GOWN AND NOW, LINCHPIN OF THE ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM’S LATEST EXHIBITION – GUO PEI: CHINESE ART AND COUTURE – WHERE 29 OF HER DESIGNS WILL BE DISPLAYED, INCLUDING TWO NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN PIECES THAT WERE INSPIRED BY THE MUSEUM’S ARTWORKS.
KENG YANG SHUEN SPEAKS WITH CHINA’S FIRST COUTURIER ON THE EVOLUTION AND RELEVANCE OF COUTURE IN 2019.
Profile photo courtesy of Rose Studio, Beijing and China’s first couturier, Guo Pei
HOW SHE DEFINES COUTURE
“Couture is more about creating a bespoke piece, than one that is ornate and opulent. However, every couture piece must be exquisitely made, embodying the highest level of traditional workmanship and culture.”
WHY COUTURE STILL MATTERS
“Couture is much more than just a piece of clothing. It can be viewed from the point of art and aesthetics, technical craftsmanship, and even the challenge of establishing new production standards. When creating couture, we devote a lot of time and attention to details. It is often through details that you express your feelings, like gratitude and love.”
The exhibition at Asian Civilisations Museum, on now till September 15, features 29 of Guo Pei’s designs, including some – inspired by the artworks in the museum’s collection – that will be debuting for the first time.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COUTURE AND READY-TO-WEAR
“I do not think we can find the perfect combination between couture and ready-to-wear. More often, you can only choose one. Couture is about pursuing perfection, new standards and new techniques. The pursuit of couture is similar to the Olympics, where a long-distance runner is constantly challenging the limit to one-tenth of a second or less. Couture is about the vertical challenge, while ready-to-wear is about horizontal development and the pursuit of breadth, with regards to expanding and occupying market share. What they have in common is constant persistence.”
HOW THE COUTURE CUSTOMER HAS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS
“From royalty to society’s elite to the new rich now, couture has definitely expanded its appeal over time. I do hope to see more younger tastemakers in couture as they gain more understanding of what couturiers do. It is not uncommon to only develop a better appreciation of culture and traditional workmanship with time, as one learns what is worth protecting and treasuring.”
ON HOW COUTURE PRESERVES AND ELEVATES TRADITIONAL CRAFTSMANSHIP
“I founded Rose Studio (her Beijing-based atelier) 23 years ago, when Chinese fashion was just emerging. Back then, people followed Western aesthetics and fashion, and there was little focus on China’s traditional craftsmanship and techniques. During that time, I started looking into reviving traditional craftsmanship. Many techniques of Rose Studio are inspired by China’s traditional crafts, and you can find traces of various schools of embroidery techniques in our work.
But I think it is more accurate to say that these techniques are (also) from the world. Due to globalisation and multiculturalism, there are some overlaps with crafts from other countries. Still, I am greatly attracted to the beauty of traditional techniques, and I remain committed in my pursuit of China’s best traditional techniques. The purpose of inheriting traditional craftsmanship is to carry forward its beauty and history.
That is not to say that we dwell in the past. Carrying traditional techniques forward requires contemporary interpretation and aesthetics. Rose Studio brought life back to the disappearing Gongxiu 宫绣 (“palace embroidery”, used in garments of imperial families in ancient China) style, and actively promoted this embroidery technique in fashion.
With Gongxiu, we have refined the technique of gold thread embroidery. Traditionally, gold thread embroidery was only executed by couching on the surface of a fabric, but we have created a method by which the gold thread passes through the fabric, resulting in richer and more vivid patterns. The two techniques can be observed on the richly embroidered long and slim panels of Dajin (大金 or magnificent gold gown), which will be on show at the Asian Civilisations Museum’s exhibition.”
Made famous (or infamous) by Rihanna when she wore it to the Met Gala in 2015, the Yellow Empress cape gown took nearly two years to craft, involving more than 50,000 hours worth of hand embroidery, and weighs 25kg.
ON THE FUTURE OF COUTURE
“Couturiers have been around for the longest time. They are a small exclusive community that will not compromise their highest standards of quality, regardless of the changing fashion trends or environment. With fashion brands (increasingly) introducing couture(esque) services, it is a way for people to raise their appreciation for couture pieces, and serves as an entry point for them to make an informed choice for couture. This would inevitably benefit the couture community, especially when there is now greater direct accessibility to our services in this time and age.”