Guo Pei swings between reality and fantasy as easily as one walks through a door. This season, she was firmly in wonderland and turned her set at the Cirque d’Hiver into a gateway toward Elysium, a paradise found. In the middle, the tangled roots of a tree served as an organic chandelier, the work of French papier maché artist Charles Macaire.
Out came an oblong dress woven in bamboo harvested from the forests of Huangshan mountain ranges in China, beset with golden flowers; 22 more dresses followed, all inspired by flora and richly embellished. Few take florals to quite the lengths that Guo does. She has been considering life as a quasi-mystical force and shaped her work of the season accordingly, letting handcraft take its most exuberant course.
Each look pushed the envelope on a technique that the Chinese couturier harnesses when her real-life clients come calling: appliqués, beading, pleating, fringing. Perching on transparent chopines, models resembled flowers in a violently bountiful garden. One purple pleated number looked like a blowsy peony, while another came heavy with pearly drops. Elsewhere, blooms simply climbed up a tabard.
For the finale, an immaculate gown with trailing crystals glided across the slick surface of the circular runway. A djembé performer came out as the models took their place around the circular platform. Feathers fell from the rafters. The clapping was as loud as for any performance.
At a time where commercial realities abound even in couture, Guo Pei approaches creation is an end unto itself. Who cares if her designs look like they belong in the costume department of an opera house?