Inspired by the opulent baroque Cathedral of Saint Gallen in Switzerland, Guo Pei’s 2017 spring-summer Legend collection is a majestic, almost regal array of silk, spun gold and sumptuous embroidery. Known for designing the Chinese ceremonial dresses for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Guo became internationally renowned when pop star Rihanna wore her enormous canary-coloured gown and cape on the red carpet at the Met Gala in New York. Showing at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of the NGV Triennial, this exhibition showcases the work of one of China’s most exciting contemporary designers.
Golden goddess. Early in 2016, Guo Pei was preparing for her next collection and visited a small antique shop in a Paris flea market. In a box containing glass beads, old buttons and strips of lace, she found several spools of gold embroidery floss produced a few decades ago. The shop owner informed her that the floss was once a favourite material of couture designers. Without hesitation, Guo bought all the gold thread in the shop, and used it in the embroidery work for her Legend collection.
This work was directly inspired by the dome of the Cathedral of St Gallen in Switzerland. The cathedral was built around AD 719 and grew to become the most important Benedictine monastery in Europe. It bore the name Seelenapotheke, meaning ‘the heart-consoling place’ and, under its elaborately painted ceilings, held a library of 50,000 books.
Gold memory gown. When Guo Pei visited Jakob Schlaepfer, one of Switzerland’s premier fabric producers, she said, ‘I want a fabric as resplendent as the sunbeam’. In the following year and a half, the art director of Jakob Schlaepfer, Martin Leuthold, produced a batch of dazzling golden fabric for Guo. Woven with metal fibre and silk thread, the fabric weighed 0.89kg per metre.
Warrior gown. The Legend collection integrates Guo Pei’s reflections on the spirit of devotion, her appreciation of handicrafts, and her perception of divine power. The power of faith is embodied in the forms of medieval warriors, saints and heavenly goddesses, to present a spiritual spectacle full of mystery and romance.
Angel gown. Inspired by the murals in the dome of the Cathedral of Saint Gallen, Guo Pei spent 18 months working with haute couture fabric manufacturer Jakob Schlaepfer to design the bespoke fabric for this collection. These fabrics pay tribute to the cathedral’s beautiful painted interiors.
Cross decorated dress. “Legends have always been one of my greatest sources of inspiration, unlocking my infinite imagination,” Guo Pei said in 2017. “The origins of mankind, creation myths and the mysteries of eternal life fascinate me. A part of my soul will always hold onto the most beautiful fantasies inspired by legends.”
Luminous spirit. “I was searching for a venue for the show when I came across La Conciergerie in Paris. I was captivated by the atmosphere and history of the building. It was where Marie Antoinette was held before she was beheaded. I was moved by her tragic life and felt sympathy for her. Everything that happened at La Conciergerie is infused in my Legend collection.”