More is more for Guo Pei, whose maximalist glamour was brought to the international stage by Rihanna when she wore one of the Chinese couturier’s gowns to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala in New York last year. (The dramatic creation, a canary-yellow fur-trimmed gown and cape, drew mixed reactions, with Vogue placing Rihanna on the cover of its Met Gala special and others comparing it to an omelette.)
Playground politics aside, that Rihanna gave her blessing has piqued the curiosity of the fashion industry bigwigs who flocked to the couturier’s second Paris show on Sunday to get a closer look. Not that any kind of proximity is needed to get an idea of what Pei is about; these creations could likely have been seen from the moon.
The artisanal handiwork and major skill that goes into them is jaw-dropping. The opening gown, covered in a fuzz of hand-fringed white sequins giving way to an ornate embroidered panel at the back, took over three years to complete in Pei’s Beijing studio.
And the collection had its moments. A belted Forties-style dress covered in gleaming dark green sequins resembling seaweed had a certain cinematic beauty, and a silver-embroidered coat with black fur collar and cuffs was striking. But the procession of over-the-top creations felt overwhelming and disparate, at times veering into dress-up box territory. Looks ran the gamut from a springy, baby blue, prom-style dress in a fringed plastic-y material to grand Victoriana gowns trimmed with gleaming cock feathers, their bibs loaded up with gold embroidery and semiprecious stones, and picture-book princess dresses, tiara and all, that nodded to the couturier’s booming bridal business back home. That’s not to forget Pei’s signature dragon theme, unleashed on a Chinese-red frock trailing rich gold tassels.
A big fish on her home turf, the couturier is virtually unheard of in the West outside of fashion circles. But while Rihanna’s Met moment may have worked a treat for opening up borders, Pei’s universe still feels geared to a market that is far, far away.