Profiles in Art: Guo Pei

Guo Pei is an international fashion designer, with her main atelier based on Rue St. Honore in Paris. Guo became a guest member of  Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 2016 and was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. Guo is a fashion industry veteran, but you might know her best from her iconic and dramatic dress, worn by Rihanna to the 2015 Met Gala. You can learn more about her work on her website and see more stunning designs on the atelier Instagram.

Interview Conducted by: Catherine Harlow, Katie Constantine, and Tiffany Chan

Edited by: Morgan Moore and Tiffany Chan

Cover Image provided by Guo Pei Paris

How did you fall in love with fashion design and embroidery?

I grew up in simpler times, compared to life today. My grandmother would tell me stories about her childhood. She would tell me about the butterflies and flowers embroidered on silk, how smooth the fabric felt against her hands. I would let myself imagine how it looked and felt.

My childhood was spent in Beijing where we see the Nine-dragon wall (九龙壁), intricately engraved pillars and beams, and even Forbidden City after the snow. These images from our traditional culture are deeply engraved in my mind and opened a door to vivid images, translated in my embroidery work.

Credit: Amanda Greene for the New York Times

What is your creative process of taking a design from pen and paper to a finished design? How do you work out a creative rut?

The creative process from design, production, to a finished piece can take thousands of hours. The process is like nurturing a life. From the time I put my idea on paper to an artisan realizing the completed piece, a lot of emotion is invested into the process. This is very different from the clothes out of an assembly line. The process has withstood the test of time. This is also the charm of Haute Couture.

In general, I will first select the fabric. If I have special requirements for the pattern or color of the fabrics, I will tell our fabric supplier, whom we have worked with for many years, to customize the fabrics to my design. After receiving these customized fabrics, we will rework the shape or contours based on my drawing. At the same time, I will work with my design team and embroiderers to realize the pattern I desire. The hand-embroidered pieces are in turn sewn onto the customized fabric, becoming a core part of the finished garment.

Of course, adjustments are often required during this process. The creation of Dajin (大金) took about 50,000 hours. A designer’s inspiration can come from all aspects of life. Most of my design inspiration come from people, places or events that touch me, such as seeing a century-old antique in a museum or going to a mesmerizing church. My emotions take over and invoke my passion to express them artistically.

Credit: Amanda Greene for the New York Times

In your opinion what are the most important considerations that make up good design within your work?

I think it is my love and understanding of life, and perhaps my attempts at constant breakthroughs. Designing has always been my way of communicating with the world. It expresses and shares my worldview, values, joy, and precious moments.

What are the greatest rewards of being a designer or the aspects that you enjoy the most?

Having been a designer for more than thirty years, I am very grateful to have been a part of the progress of China’s fashion industry and to have encountered many opportunities. From the moment I became a designer, China experienced a lot of social and economic developments; I consider myself very lucky to have progressed with the consumer patterns from these developments.

In 1997, to realize my dreams, I established my own company. Through experience and persistence, I have put together my own team. The experience made me more aware of my own standards. Design has always been a natural way to express myself. Together with my team, we invested time in pushing boundaries, learning and realizing my dream creations. This has made me feel particularly happy.

And of course, there are my clients. They may already own pieces of my work, but they will still come to me to refresh their wardrobe. They may even bring the pieces they purchased from me seventeen or eighteen years ago, hoping I can make another piece to match those pieces. This is truly one of the most touching moment for a designer.

Credit: Amanda Greene for the New York Times

Can you tell us about the process of breaking into and staying competitive in the North American markets? Does having clients/audiences of different demographics impact your design process and if so, how?

Having worked on Haute Couture design for many years, I have developed a sense for satisfying my customers’ needs. To break into the North American market, or any market for that matter, I must first understand the consumer desires and habitsboth from the brand and designs. To do so, I have visited Los Angeles, New York, Washington, and other American cities several times for business inspection and to meet with local artists and clients to exchange ideas. It is also a privilege for me to hold salons in Los Angeles.

What does a normal day look like for you?

My daily work schedule is very full. Receiving my clients is my top priority. When I have clients scheduled during the day, I usually will not arrange for other work engagements. I like my clients to feel like they are my priority and that I have set the day aside for them. At the moment, I am also taking English lessons. I hope to better communicate with my clients, artists and designers from all over the world. The ability to speak English will also help me during media interviews and social events. Of course, on a daily basis, I am in communication with my design team and artisans for on-going projects or client orders.

Can you recommend a wine and cheese (any comfort food/ drink combination) to us?

I like all kinds of food, particularly the ones with ingredients that are unusual or innovative cuisine. Recently, I am obsessed with Sōmen(素面) made by a friend of mine from Taiwan. He opened his own vegetarian restaurant in Beijing and it was very popular. He makes his noodles out of various basil leaves resulting in three different colors of noodle. He captures the essence of pasta-making and created his own cuisine. I think it is very creative and interesting.

Credit: Amanda Greene for the New York Times

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