NGV Triennial: Guo Pei
More than 100 artists from 32 countries are showcasing contemporary art, design and architecture at the inaugural NGV Triennial. On until April, it features installations you can walk through, paintings, sculpture and haute couture gowns designed to inspire, agitate, provoke and help you think outside the square. Spread out over various levels is what makes this a fun art hunt not dissimilar to a Choose Your Own Adventure novel with plenty to discover along the way.
Fashion is pleasantly included in the mix this year with Chinese couturier Guo Pei’s haute couture collection on show alongside that of Iris Van Herpen.
Pei rose to fame when Rihanna wore one of her gowns to the MET Gala in 2015 and Dutch fashion designer van Herpen [who interned with Alexander McQueen] is best known for her avant-garde designs worn by the likes of Lady Gaga and Bjork.
Woman with Drive’s Jane Rocca met Guo Pei at the NGV while on her recent visit to Melbourne – and her first since she was last in town with her husband back in 1999.
Pei splits her time between Beijing and Paris. She shows haute couture collections yearly in Paris and has done so for the past four. The SS17 Legend haute collection features decadent gowns with intricate beading, sparkling embellishments and embroidery. It is elaborate, extravagant and is costume at its most bedazzling and over the top.
Pei showed this runway show at La Conciergerie in Paris – where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned immediately prior to her beheading. Feeling moved by the Queen of France’s tragedy inspired the Legend collection – which we are lucky to see at the NGV – in an exhibition room that is darkly gothic and suited to the revolutionary theme.
The 51-year-old designer was drawn to the life of Marie Antoinette and it is evident through couture that oozes drama, grandeur and an intense femininity.
Pei gains strength from feminine silhouettes that borrow from bygone eras and uses metallic fabrics and sheer finishes with embroidery to bridge her Chinese heritage with Western fashion.
Pei is also the subject of a new documentary by New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly titled Yellow Is Forbidden, which is in post-production, about her life and rise as a fashion star in an industry largely dominated by elite European names.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in haute couture design?
I love haute couture and think it will always be around. I have been designing for many years but I love what I feel when I design haute couture. It is an art form and a pursuit for excellence. The craft will never die and I am obsessed with it.
What does Marie Antoinette and Guo Pei haute couture have in common?
Many women around the world are familiar with the name of Marie Antoinette. I learned more about her life when I was in Paris and felt a lot of sympathy towards her. She is someone who inspired fashion– she is a legend and an intriguing figure. I wanted to focus on her power and influence on fashion, the gowns she wore and the revolutionary times in which she existed. In the case of Legend it was about being over the top and capturing her drama.
What do you love about Paris?
Paris is a dream destination for a lot of women around the world. For me it is everything. l get inspiration from the city each season I design. It’s a place I was yearning to go when I was a little child and nowadays I spend two months in a year there.
How did Rihanna wearing your dress to the MET Gala in 2015 enhance your profile?
Rihanna definitely helped me gain more mainstream recognition. I went from being a Chinese designer to one received on a global fashion stage. The dress itself was created back in 2010 and she wore it a few years after that, but she gave new meaning to the dress. She shone a light on my work, which I had been doing for many decades before. She was looking for something to wear and noticed my yellow dress and asked to wear it.
Does seeing your collection in a gallery change the way you perceive your own work?
The answer is definitely yes. Each time I look at my pieces I feel they change through time. When I look at my works displayed in different environments it reminds me of what I was thinking at that very moment of making that dress. It is like a recollection of time and travelling back in it.
NGV Triennial is on at the National Gallery of Victoria until April 15, 2018. Entry is free. For more information click here.
Image credit: NGV
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