Art review: Glamorous gowns give new meaning to made in China


By turns fascinating and strangely alienating, the haute couture creations from Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei in the SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film exhibition “Guo Pei: Couture Beyond” are, on the surface, undeniably astounding. The first solo U.S. exhibition devoted to her work, this SCAD FASH show is a bit of a coup for the museum, a high-profile show that has already garnered attention from The New York Times and fawning previews in the fashion press.

Elaborate, architectural constructions of endless layers of pleated fabric, bejeweled 16-foot trains that sweep the floor with the drama of a monarch’s coattails and dresses festooned with copious sequins, embroidery and iridescent paillettes, Guo’s gowns are symphonies of workmanship (dresses can often take years to execute) and whimsy that often overturn our vision of what a skirt or a dress can be. The undercarriages of skirts in her “Garden of Soul” collection drip bejeweled flowers like an inverted garden, and in another dress, an explosion of red silk flowers turns darker and darker as they near the hem of the dress in an ombre effect that ends in a rich, dramatic eggplant color.

Modeled on the blue-and-white designs of Chinese porcelain or festooned with the dragons, lotuses, butterflies, pagodas and peonies that ornamented the robes of Chinese royalty, Guo’s garments hark back to imperial China. In this way, the garments strike a strangely anachronistic note, at times shockingly modern with their punk rock spiked shoulders, micro-minis and platform shoes and at other moments so rich in ornamentation that Guo’s clothes can seem like vestiges of a lost, more formal age than our own.

Included in the show is Rihanna’s gorgeous acid-yellow dress with 55 pounds of silk and dyed fox fur that the singer famously swanned down the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala red carpet in 2015. Though Guo has expressed interest in creating a more accessible ready-to-wear line, for now wealthy risk takers like Rihanna but also the lesser-known Chinese elites and the global 1 percent are the only takers for these clothes with their mortgage-equivalent price tags.

But Guo’s gowns also raise questions about the vision of femininity and wealth privileged in these garments. A video of a Guo Pei runway show where models look like the foot-bound courtesans and noblewomen of ancient China hobbling with the aid of helpers on stilt-like shoes down the catwalk only amplify this strange vision of feminine charm. Guo’s vertiginous high heels mimic Qing Dynasty chopine footwear, which also slowed down and complicated their wearers’ movement. Are these garments armor from the world, or a prison of wealth? Guo’s erotics of incapacitation are so extreme even a fashion rebel like Lady Gaga reportedly turned down one of Guo’s dresses for a music video because she found she couldn’t move in it.

A gown of exquisite gold columns like a suit of armor, woven into a bell-like skirt, “Magnificent Gold,” required 50,000 hours of embroidery to assemble, attesting to the economic excesses that define haute couture in a time of dramatic social divide.

Or as Judith Thurman wrote in her New Yorker profile of Guo, calling her the court dressmaker to this moneyed elite, “China’s rich think of themselves as a new aristocracy.” With their blatantly regal associations, Guo’s garments attest to a new world order defined not by the divinity of birth or ruling dynasties, but by capital.

ART REVIEW

“Guo Pei: Couture Beyond”

Through March 4, 2018. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Fridays-Saturdays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Thanksgiving Day and the day after. $10; $8, seniors and military (all active-duty military personnel and their families have free museum admission through Labor Day); $5, college students with ID and SCAD alumni; free, children under 14 and SCAD students/faculty/staff. SCAD FASH, 1600 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta. 404-253-3132, www.scadfash.org.

Bottom line: Astounding in their beauty but troubling in their implications, Chinese designer Guo Pei’s clothes are a blend of history and a reflection of the strange, economically divisive times we live in.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Wes Moss: 3 traits of the happiest retirees
Wes Moss: 3 traits of the happiest retirees

I am fascinated by what makes the happiest retirees tick. Early in my almost 20-year career as a Certified Financial Planner, I realized that many people have misconceptions about what creates true enjoyment during the retirement phase of life. One statistic really struck me as I pondered the true source of happiness in retirement. A Princeton...
‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’ part 3 reunion recap: bye bye Kim?
‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’ part 3 reunion recap: bye bye Kim?

Posted Sunday, April 22, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog Virtually the entire finale reunion episode of season 10 of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” was all about going after Kim Zolciak. For anyone who dislikes Kim, this was a satisfying delight. (And anyone who knows me...
First live ‘American Idol’ show: top 14 perform
First live ‘American Idol’ show: top 14 perform

Posted Sunday, April 22, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog I am live blogging the first live show of “American Idol” show of the season and first in two years. This will be the top 14, which will be quickly cut to 10 tomorrow. I just adopted a toddler from South Korea and have...
What is Earth Day? 5 things to know
What is Earth Day? 5 things to know

Sunday is Earth Day 2018, and more than one billion people across the globe are expected to celebrate with environmentally friendly events. But what exactly is Earth Day? Here's what you need to know: >> Read more trending news  The first Earth Day celebration took place 48 years ago, in 1970, after a devastating oil spill in America brought...
Concert review and photos: Pink flies high with dazzling return to Atlanta
Concert review and photos: Pink flies high with dazzling return to Atlanta

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene (This review was originally posted at 1:25 a.m. on April 22, 2018) Think what you want about Pink, but don’t doubt her integrity – as a musician, a performer, a humanitarian. She’s as real as it gets. So yeah, you try this while singing. Pink apparently has no problem! Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC...
More Stories