During Paris Haute Couture Week, one of the most important fashion weeks in the world, on January 22nd, 2020, Guo Pei presented her Spring/Summer 2020 Couture collection Himalaya at Palais de Tokyo. For this occasion, the distinguished palace of contemporary art has been magically transformed into a holy realm of snowy pureness. Presenting 22 couture looks, Guo Pei explored the philosophical dialogue between primitive and civilization, recreating her imagination of the Himalayas.
“Himalaya is a place that has brought me countless fantasies, but never fulfilled. It is the hometown of snow, where one’s soul lives. In my heart, I can see her clearly. The steepness and solitude, the icy cold of its snowy mountain peaks could not annihilate her glorious divine image in my heart. For thousands of years, it has symbolized the road to truth, the residence of the gods, the temple of the soul.
"I like the white of the Himalayas. A holy white that fuses its pinnacles to the sky; the white snowflakes floating lightly, the white mountain peaks standing steep and lonely. A brilliant white; a white that is so pure, a white that is the purity of soul and spirit.
"I like the height of the Himalayas. A height of fearless life nor death; connected to the sky and a peak that can overlook everything in the world.
"I also like stillness of the Himalayas. It is still because it is lonely, it is lonely because it is pure, it is pure because it is holy...
"In the Himalayas, the frozen trail left behind for thousands of years is the path to the truth. It is the courage to challenge life and death. Like the Snow Lotus standing tall above the snow.” — Guo Pei
The snow lotus is a key design element in this collection. Growing far above the snow-line, this rare breed of flowers remain pure and uncontaminated, like an untainted soul. Pei used light materials such as features and organza to create the graceful lightness and translucent texture of snow lotuses in its various forms. Crystals and pearls are layered in clusters to create the stamen, bringing these extraordinary flowers to life. Intricate layers of pleating and intensive weaving techniques are employed by the craftsmen to embody snow in its various natural states – melting, powder soft, ice and crystallization.
Using luxury couture fabrics sourced from around the world, “Himalaya” features including precious gold brocade from China and antique Japanese Obi fabric. Guo Pei chose to use the reverse side of these fabrics, adopting the look of intertwined yarns as an abstract metaphor for the crisscross of human civilization and cultures. Hundreds of antique Japanese kimono belts are cut into 10 x 20cm pieces and reassembled to create a unique blend of colors and textures. Sewn together, these tiny pieces of fabric symbolizes a convergence of different civilizations and cultures, weaving into each other like history through the centuries.
Inspired by the Himalayans’ Buddhist faith, sacred Buddha art patterns from traditional Thangkas are embroidered onto these reconstructed fabrics, such as Buddhas of the Three Realms and the mysteries of the circles of life. The ornamental crowns and rosary beads of the Buddha statues are embellished with precious gemstones. Guo Pei epitomizes the Himalayans’ faith, transcending time and strength across the region, healing the rifts of civilization and liberation of one’s soul.
Employing Guo Pei’s signature luxurious palace embroidery techniques, Buddha and various Buddhist religious patterns from Thangkas are vividly illustrated on the pieces of this collection. Gold and silver thread embroidery are heavily featured to create the sacred tone of the patterns. Using her in-depth knowledge of colors and fabrics, Guo Pei integrates embroidery and fabrics into one cohesive piece of art, expressing the pureness of Tibetan art. Through three-dimensional embroidery techniques, traditional Thangka craftsmanship fused with traditions and innovation, is brought to life through Guo Pei’s creations.
The multi-layered, soft-flowing silhouettes of the collection are inspired by traditional Tibetan designs featuring exaggerated sleeves and dropped waistlines, reflecting the freedom and uninhibited nomadic culture at the foot of the Himalayas. Like a snow lotus encapsulated in grace, each look is likened to a capsule where the dress’s neckline, cuff and skirt mirrors the elegant outline of this capsule, revealing an exquisite flower above the collar.
How does it feel to be such a famous fashion designer in your own country? Did you ever expect to have so successful career?
GP: I feel very honored to be the invited member of the FHCM (Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode). As the only member from China, I feel it is my responsibility or mission to show the people around the world about Chinese designs and cultures.
I have scarcely thought about the eventual achievement when I started my career as a designer. Instead, I was just concentrating on embodying my ideas. Now, reviewing my past 30 years, all my achievements come exactly from the works I have made to make my ideas come true.
Having such a platform, which is the most important message you are sending through your designs?
GP: What I demonstrate is simply the art of couture itself. I have tried to interpret the different themes with my works: the cultures of different nations and community, the divers traditional crafts from all over the world. I have never considered about marketing and sales, but just simply concentrated on the art of couture itself.
What do you love about creating couture pieces?
GP: I am passionate about sophistication of the couture art, as it is the details of the creations into which we devote so much time and emotions, which make them become the most touching part of the creation. Such detail may take a lot of manufactural works of several craftsmen. To pursue extreme perfection, that is where the charm of the couture art comes from.
How much time did it take to make a spectacular wedding gown from your beautiful Himalayas collection?
GP: It depends, for example, to make the white gown (look 21 from the collection SS 2020), it takes 4000 hours of manufacture.
Your fabrics for couture collection are truly impressive. Please tell us about the importance of the fabrics in your design process, and how do you develop them.
GP: We used a lot of different kinds of fabrics, like the Chinese Yunjin, which values the same as the gold, and the antique Obi fabric from Japan, and the special fabrics from other top suppliers from all over the world.
For the colorful part, we used a lot of Obi fabrics, however, I chose the reverse side of the fabric, with the effect of the interweaving fibers, which is very coherent with the theme of the Himalayas. As an Obi belt generally measures about 40 cm large, one belt can be hardly enough for a dress. We cut hundreds Obi belt for Kimono into the little pieces of 20cm*10cm, and recompose them according to their color and texture as the base, with the divers Thangka patterns on it, I would like to express the accumulation of cultures by this way.
The white fabrics are transformed from their original form. We used the feather, the mist-like voile and other airy fabrics, to manufacture the snow lotus with a dozen shapes, with crystals and pearls at the heart of the flower. And with the vast application of intricate layers of pleating and intensive weaving techniques, we tried to embody the different states of snow like melting, powder-soft, accumulated and crystallized shape.
Which are some precious Chinese techniques you love to incorporate in your styles?
GP: Firstly, it is the embroidery with the gold wire, improved by Guo Pei team. Traditionally, this technique can only embody shape the pattern on the surface of the fabrics, but we have developed it to let the gold string weaves crossing the fabrics, which demand the finer string, which is also much more fragile. At the beginning to develop this technique, our craftsman can only embroider 7 times on average before the string breaks. Without saying about 300 times to reinforce the string, it took much more times than usual to manufacture a work. So we have used years to develop this technique.
Besides the technique of gold string embroidery, the traditional embroidery used to make Thangka can be found in this collection, to express the simple Tibetan esthetics. Moreover, we have developed this technique with a 3d effect, I think this might bring some inspirations for Thangka art.
What inspires you the most from the Western culture?
GP: I think there is a kind of inter-respect or admiration between the cultures. I do love the occidental cultures, in respecting them. It can be shown through my works, where I used many occidental ideas. The intercultural communication can always lead to more inspirations. The reason my works are appreciated by people from around the world is that they can see something familiar in my works, that’s also why my works can be understood.
How can fashion connect people of different cultures?
GP: It is through the creativity of the designers, which can simplify, recompose or transcend the arts from different nations or cultures, which can cross the borders of states, and arouse the empathy in the heart of the people with different cultural background.
Please tell us about your design ethos.
GP: I love couture art, as the couture can have a longer, even permanent life. Unlike the ready-to-wear, which could be very popular at a time, but be forgotten at another. I hope my couture can be like the museum pieces stored in the galleries or museums, being inherited. Because the true haute couture can be appreciated through the time, after the years, they become a glance of the past time, where they can restore the past glory and resplendence. I really hope in the future, my works will allow me to recollect the happiness and beauty while creating them.
What does creativity mean to you?
GP: Creativity to me means the unlimited potential and esthetic charm, which allows all the possibilities for art creation.
How do you see the importance of art education?
GP: It is so important! I think that art education should not be limited among some certain classes, it should be popularized, to promote the concept of the pursuit of beauty. Besides, it is an education about the inspiring and touching, rather than the knowledge in the books.
What advice would you give to those who would like to follow in your footsteps?
GP: I think that most of the younger people are chasing fame and success, but it is the passion which can lead to creativity, at least passion is more important than success and fame. I hope that the new-comers can see this point through my works, as they can hardly make a profit or really gain something. Even though people say that I became famous for my works, I have devoted myself to creation before becoming famous.
Which good book would you advise us to reed?
GP: “Finite and Infinite Games” by James P. Carse.
The story "Creativity Can Cross the Borders of States; In Conversation with Guo Pei" by Tanja Beljanski first appeared in the March 2020 issue of L'Officiel Arabia.