Sketches of success

Art March 25, 2017 01:00

By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
THE NATION

Leading Chinese designer Guo Pei talks about inspiration, Asian Haute Couture and how to make it to the top.



THE FIRST Chinese haute couture designer, Guo Pei, was having a wonderful time this week in Thailand, taking in the sights and showcasing her meticulous dresses to Thai fashionistas at Bangkok International Fashion Week 2017 at Siam Paragon. 

The designer of the lavish 25-kilogram canary yellow cape worn by Rihanna to New York’s Met Gala in 2015. Guo Pei established Rose Studio almost two decades ago and is today the favourite designer of Chinese high-end fashion consumers. Last year, Guo Pei was officially invited by the French Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to show her collection in the Fashion Week Haute-Couture, the first and only Chinese designer ever to be brought into the fold.

On Wednesday, Guo Pei spoke to young designers at an event organised by the BIFW and the Department of Industrial Promotion. She also found time to sit down with XP. 

CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT HOW YOU STARTED? 

When I was born in 1967, China had not yet opened up to the world and had just gone through a social revolution. No one had beautiful clothes but wore uniforms in grey and black. I could see an opportunity and decided to study fashion design in 1982. So the road to becoming a fashion designer has been very long but I have always been determined to present the greatness of Chinese culture through its ancient art of embroidery. When I travel, I like to visit museums and here in Thailand I have spent time at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles and was very impressed. I believe that the royal court has the best national art collection in the country. 

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BECOME A FASHION DESIGNER IN CHINA?

It is extremely difficult, rather like finding a tree in the desert. It takes a lot of effort to achieve any success. Everybody thinks it is a modern career and that it is important to be famous. For me a designer should have core principles that reflect individuality, for example, ancient cutting techniques or patterns and prints only seen in the royal court. These are what makes a designer. 

WHAT IS THE MAIN INSPIRATION INFLUENCING YOUR WORK?

Inspiration is something that we designers would like to communicate; it is what is inside our hearts. I prefer travel around and spend time in museums whether in Arabia or Asia. That history can be interpreted and presented in your work. When I was in Paris, I visited one of the city’s remarkable churches and fell in love with its art and architecture. Those are the things that inspire me.

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BE RECOGNISED AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE WORLD FASHION? WHAT ARE THE OBSTACLES?

It’s not necessary to be an international designer to face problems. There are lots of obstacles to overcome at all levels. But I’m not afraid of them. In fact, obstacles can bring about good opportunities because when you face problems, you have more energy to fight. So I’d rather face up and try to understand them. Every obstacle helps you grow. 

WHAT IS YOUR FUTURE DIRECTION IN FASHION?

I don’t plan in advance or even have a clear vision of my life ahead. Thirty-five years ago when I was learning about fashion design, I didn’t think I would be in the position I am today. I go with the flow. However, deep inside, I think everybody has a duty towards his or her country. As a designer, I like to communicate the beauty of Chinese art and culture, and also the history of my great nation. Whatever your career, you have to love your country and return the favours it has given you. In the future, I would like all the brides in China to wear traditional costumes to announce to the world how proud we are to be Chinese. 

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?

Designers should have drive and in fashion, that means inspiration. If you ask where the drive comes from, it is definitely rooted in doing what you love. For we humans, love is the greatest emotion and requires commitment and dedication. Some new designers skip lots of steps just to become famous. Me, I put my whole life into it. If you do not love what you do and are not prepared to put all of yourself into it, then you won’t be successful. 

WHAT ARE YOU BRINGING TO THAI FANS AT BANGKOK INTERNATIONAL FASHION WEEK 2017? WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS?

I’m thrilled to be here because this is my first time in Thailand. Unfortunately, my latest spring and summer collection is still on show in Paris. So I have brought the previous one. “Greeting” is the concept of this collection. It is how the Guo Pei brand meets Thailand. So our meeting is very special. 

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOLLOWING THE FASHION SHOW?

I really like Thailand. I’d like to apply Thai art and culture and some patterns to my designs. China and Thailand have a long relationship. Visiting the Grand Palace and the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles excited me. I had no idea that there were such impeccable and elegant dresses here. You have a wonderful Queen. So I’m fully expecting to adapt these ideas for my designs. 

CHINESE CUSTOMERS ARE MORE AFFLUENT TODAY THAN IN THE PAST. ARE THEY INTERESTED IN HAUTE COUTURE? WHO ARE YOUR CLIENTS?

Chinese customers are different from Europeans. In Europe, top-class couturiers tend not to take care of middle-income customers. This is not the same in China. I welcome everybody and am pleased to fix and alter clothes to fit my customers. I’m very impressed when such customers come to see me because it means they are looking for clothes that they love and will last them for life. I am unlike other designers. Some women have hundreds of pairs of jeans or outfits that they wear just once and that to me is such a waste of money. Buying clothes is about loving them. I know one woman who loved her clothes so much that she itemised them in her will so that they would be passed down to the next generation. 

CAN YOU EXPLAINS THE DIFFERENCES IN HAUTE COUTURE DESIGNED BY ASIAN AND WESTERN DESIGNERS?

There is actually very little difference. The fact is the Europeans just don’t know that Asian designers too can create haute couture. When I went to Paris last time, some people told me that my creations are beyond haute couture. If you have courage, inspiration, and love for what you do, you can produce haute couture. 

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR MOST-TALKED-ABOUT DESIGN, THE CANARY YELLOW CAPE DRESS THAT RIHANNA WORE ON THE RED CARPET OF NEW YORK’S MET GALA 2015?

When Rihanna wore that dress on the red carpet, I was right behind her but I did not dare to get close to her. I felt that the dress was so heavy and very hot and wondered how Rihanna could wear it! But the feedback was great. I was surprised but I don’t think I want anything in return. There’s a Chinese saying that opportunity comes to someone who is ready and has reached full capacity. Therefore, if you have reached full capacity, the opportunity will come to you. 

HOW DOES YOUR FAME HELP YOUR COUNTRY?

I think my international fame helps not only China’s reputation but also Asia as a whole. I’ve shown young designers that moving to the top is possible. 

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR NEW DESIGNERS?

They need first to set a goal, then draw a framework so they know how to reach it. Many young designers want to be famous so they contact the media, let famous personalities wear their clothes and so on. Spending money can earn you fame but it does not last long because the box is empty. |So we have to be determined |and work hard to fill the box. |Our creations speak for |themselves. Time is much more important than money in |achieving success. 

BIFW runs until tomorrow. Watch it live at |www.digitalfashionweek.com