At SCADFash for Guo Pei exhibit.

Exhibit Visit - "Guo Pei: Couture Beyond" at SCADFash

My eldest daughter and I visited Atlanta's SCADFash to see Guo Pei: Couture Beyond. Beyond, indeed! I think the kids call it "extra." And in the very best way. The short story is that I've never seen more exquisite garments, more beautifully made. That's saying something.

This "mushroom dress" (my name), the very first we encountered, showcases Pei's innovative design, exquisite fabrics and craftsmanship, and her incorporation of traditional Chinese styles and themes. Most ensembles included matching shoes and jewelry:

Mushroom Dress (my name) by Guo Pei
Extreme self-control was required and exercised: I didn't touch (or eat) the luscious layers of silk.

For me, Pei's level of innovation compares only with that of Iris Van Herpen, whose fabulous and fanciful work tricks the eye, making natural materials look man-made and 3D-printed synthetic materials appear organic.

The difference was the unapologetic beauty of Pei's work: the cut of the garments, the lush, richly colored fabrics, the intricate embellishments and hand painting, and most of all, the breathtaking hand embroidery. 

SCADFash did a marvelous job mounting this exhibit. The cold, industrial space was transformed into a romantic, candle-lit ballroom. The charming student-docents told us they'd tried their best to replicate the look and feel of Pei's atelier.

Room Overview - Guo Pei: Couture Beyond at SCADFash

The garments were displayed to be seen. No silly eyeball peepholes or view-thwarting cases. Several of the mannequins were set on slowly rotating platforms, and nearly every garment had 360-degree views. Mirrors along the walls enhanced the ambience and our ability to see the clothes from every angle.

"Wing Suit" (my name) by Guo Pei.

I thank the folks at SCADFash for keeping the garments so visually accessible, which required trusting us exhibit-goers to resist the urge to touch and, in my case, eat the clothes. No small challenge.

This "flower hoop dress" (my name) is richly hand-embroidered with genuine gold and silver thread: 

Gold "Hoop Dress" (my name) by Guo Pei SCAD's thoughtful display enabled easy, 360-degree viewing. Bravo! 

Born in Beijing in 1967, Pei is the first Chinese national couturier, meaning she was invited to join France's Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. 

Pei's early childhood was defined by China's Cultural Revolution, which strove to eliminate all capitalist and traditional influence in the pursuit of pure Communist ideals. Today, her work stands in direct defiance of those values, incorporating traditional Chinese silhouettes, symbolism, and techniques forbidden, but not forgotten, during that bleak period.

Most traditional of the designs at Guo Pei: Couture BeyondDocents explained that this garment's hundreds of lush peonies -- the national 
flower of China -- were found in a decommissioned factory and lovingly restored.

This "bubble dress and embroidered trousers" (my name) set was a personal favorite. A charming combination of sophistication and whimsy. It looks a bit vintage, thoroughly modern, and retains traditional Chinese design elements in both cut and embellishment. 

Bubble Dress (my name) by Guo Pei

side view, Guo Pei puff dress

As you'd expect of haute couture, many of the designs are over-the-top, experimental, and would look odd anywhere but on the reddest of carpets.

Rihanna appropriately wore Pei's luxurious golden yellow coat to the 2015 Met Gala, themed "China: Through the Looking Glass," to rave reviews:

You know I love dressing up. But I can't imagine arriving as my ordinary self at any party, however grand, in this "Queen Ensemble" (my name):

"Queen Dress" (my name) by Guo Pei.

And while Lady Gaga could pull off this "umbrella dress" (my name), I don't think I could (or would, it's not a favorite):

"Umbrella Dress" (my name) by Guo Pei.

But many of the garments, while fanciful, were quite wearable. Here are views of two I really liked:

Some of the wearable designs from Guo Pei: Couture Beyond
Even this exceptional, pearl-encrusted ensemble -- according to the student-docents the most valuable in the exhibit -- does not necessarily defy wearability:

pearls dress by Guo PeiNote the dragon motifs in the hand-beaded pearls. The student-docents said the pearls were genuine, but I'm skeptical.

I'd also argue that this "Ming Vase" dress (my name) could be worn by a fashion-forward "regular" person to a very formal event (if we still had those, sigh), although perhaps without the porcelain headpiece:
"Chinese Vase" dresses (my name) by Guo Pei

This highly-embroidered yellow dress with dramatic sleeves reminded another visitor of the one Nicole Kidman wore to the 1997 Academy Awards. I knew the dress she meant and remembered liking it at the time. But when I did a search and compared that Christian Dior by John Galliano design and Pei's dress side-by-side? In my opinion, there's no comparison. One is a beautiful dress, the other is a work of art:

Guo Pei yellow dress with crazy sleeves. Nicole Kidman in John Galliano for Christian Dior 

Pei's other forays into real-world design include the opening ceremony costumes for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing:

Guo Pei's Olympic costumes

This "Dragon and Phoenix" dress (my name, but I think it's the correct one) was an exhibit highlight. The student-docent explained that Pei used the two ancient Chinese mythological beasts to represent contrasts, such as masculine and feminine. Once again, China's national flower, the peony, makes an appearance. This time in the most gorgeous shades of periwinkle blue.Dragon and Phoenix Dress by Guo Pei

This "short dress lineup," as I call it, features several of Pei's signature touches. Look at how many layers of tissue-thin silk she used to create the thick but weightless blue skirt. So hard not to touch:Short Dresses by Guo Pei

You can see a host of references to historic styles in Pei's work, well beyond traditional Chinese elements. From the hoop skirt of the golden dress, to the leg o' mutton sleeves of the whimsical dress above, to the 1920s styling of the sleek "cocoon coat" (my name), below:
Guo Pei "Cocoon Coat" (my name)

Most obvious (although only to me, apparently) was the similarity between Pei's shoes and the chopines of the 15th-17th centuries: 
Guo Pei shoes and boots

Originally worn as over shoes to keep dainty silk slippers out of the mud, high-rise chopines enjoyed so much popularity, they eventually became shoes in their own right. Here are a few renaissance examples for comparison. No, platforms weren't a 1970s, or even a 1940s, innovation:
renaissance chopines
I'll admit I'm not a fan of clunky shoes, whether antique, vintage, or modern. I prefer more delicate footwear. But as it's unlikely I will ever own or wear one of Pei's masterpieces, I won't spend too much time fretting about it.

As long as we're discussing things I don't like, I have to say I was perplexed by this gown. It's from Pei's Spring 2017 Couture collection, but it's a dead ringer for my old boss Monica's wedding dress from the mid-1980s:
2017 does 1980s wedding gown by Guo Pei I thought the headpiece was pretty. 

Last, but not least, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite designs. I especially liked the pants set, which reminds me of late 18th century menswear:
Silk layers combo - Guo Pei designs

Here's a closer view of the matching accessories. I even kind of liked the chunky shoes, of clear material and decorated with more of the layered silk. So lovely:

purse detail - Guo Pei

At each mannequin I gasped anew and then laughed, hearing Sir John Gielgud (as Hobson) instructing Liza Minelli's character Linda to "Steal something casual" in the movie "Arthur." I texted a photo of one of Pei's magnificent creations, along with the movie line, to my bff. She understood.


Liza Dolensky


Liza Dolensky

Amazing ! Thank you for sharing this. I think I had my mouth open the entire time I was looking at the photos. Something about some of the embroidery brought a vintage matador’s outfit to mind.

Liza Dolensky

What a visual feast! I was drawn to several designs, including the pleated cone dress.

Liza Dolensky

Thank you. You have such an ability to enjoy the high end, far out part of couture then anchor it with wearability. The fabrics appear to be so lush, even in photos. No wonder you had trouble keeping your hands off. I can’t even imagine the prices on some of these pieces,

Liza Dolensky

Amazing! Just breathtaking! I think the word magical even applies here. Just incredible……. <3

Oh goodness, the Ming Vase dress (your name) I would most certainly wear even if it meant standing through the entire event.

Thank you for sharing such lovely, beautiful pieces! Wow!


Liza Dolensky

Utterly amazing…spellbinding work. This is one talented textile artist!

Liza Dolensky

One word, or maybe two……BREATHTAKINGLY EXQUISITE! I have always been fascinated with intricate beadwork and embroidery and this exhibit of Pei’s creations or, shall I say, works of art, beautifully combine the best of both. If I had been so fortunate to be able to see this wonderful exhibit, I think I would have dreamed all night long that I was “my ordinary self at any party” in that fabulous “Queen Ensemble” (your name)! Thank you so much for sharing your visit with all of us!

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