“Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy,” the mid-career retrospective of the Chinese couturier, is being extended at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor museum, after attracting a record 130,000 visitors in 18 weeks, making it one of the museum’s most popular costume exhibitions in the last decade. It will now be on view through Nov. 27.
It’s easy to see why the show has been so popular; with Pei’s dazzling encrusted embroideries and nature themes, including a bird’s nest built into a gown, as well as her innovative fabrics resembling mother-of-pearl and spun gold, it’s like being at fashion Disneyland.
Hosting “Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy” in the Bay Area, home to one of the largest Asian populations in the U.S., was intentional, said curator Jill D’Alessandro, speaking exclusively to WWD last year about her collaboration with the designer on the show.
“As an institution we’ve been looking at expanding the canon outside of the West, and she is a really important person for us to look at. And to be honest it’s a difficult time — California is leading the nation in Asian hate crimes. As [Guo Pei] says herself, ‘There is so much misconception about China. I want to show a different side of China.’ Both her studio and the museum believe art can be a form of healing.”
Spread across two floors and multiple galleries, the exhibition features 80 runway ensembles from collections shown both in Beijing and in Paris over the last two decades, all of them sourced from the designer’s archive.
The designer was among the first generation to come of age in the ’80s after China’s Open Door Policy, which led her to draw inspiration from both Chinese and European traditions.
Mixing a chronological and thematic approach, galleries explore how Imperial China, botanical China, religion, art and architecture have influenced the designer’s work. Some of Guo Pei’s creations are displayed alongside the museum’s permanent collection of European paintings and decorative arts to highlight cross-cultural exchange. A gown from the “Legends” collection, inspired by the Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland, is placed among the saint icons and Madonna figures in the medieval gallery, and the “Phoenix” gown from the “Legend of the Dragon” collection is placed in the museum’s gilded historical French reception room, the “Salon Doré.