The Report: The Legend that is Guo Pei

The Report is a blog series created to showcase the Festival's Fashion Writing finalists. Writers are sent to Arts, Ideas and Independent Runway events, to take a closer look at the diverse program beyond the runway, and explore fashion that takes us to galleries, stage, screen and more.


Anastasia McInerney is a fashion writer, an RMIT journalism graduate and a former VAMFF volunteer. She’s a Melbournian to the core, but she doesn’t own a pair of jeans nor does she drink coffee. Order her a chai latte and she'll defend fashion as mere frivolity (but can also secretly be found giddy at the sight of anything fluffy, pink or shiny).


Where art, fashion and architecture intersect for an otherworldly experience.

Travel down the halls of the National Gallery of Victoria on any given day, and it’s expected complete rapture will ensue. Whether it’s the grand scale of some works, the miniscule detail of others, or the combined total excellence of all creations featured, the gallery is a place for inspiration, and total appreciation, of art in all its forms.

So it comes as no surprise the latest fashion exhibition has all that, and then some. Chinese couturier Guo Pei’s creations command attention, and rightfully so. Guo Pei’s Legend Collection, an installation of haute couture designs, sits as part of Melbourne’s latest free exhibition, NGV Triennial – a four-level celebration of the world’s top creations spanning art, design, architecture, performance and fashion.

Guo Pei (pronounced ‘GWO-PAY’), rose to the top of fashion headlines with her iconic 2015 MET Gala fox fur and gold threaded yellow cape, worn on the shoulders of none other than Rihanna. But Pei’s world-recognised greatness, her sartorial break through the mould, began much earlier than her gown’s red carpet debut.

“Guo Pei became well known on the international stage in 2015,” NGV Acting Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles Paola Di Trocchio explains, “but she’s been designing for over 30 years.”

It’s this theme of time that places Guo Pei so perfectly as part of the Triennial. It’s the first time pieces from the Chinese couturier have exhibited in Melbourne, with the exhibition featuring Pei’s Spring/Summer 2017 couture collection, Legend– a project that took two years to create.

“Guo Pei’s attitude towards design is about creating pieces that will endure and continue, and ultimately, are timeless,” Di Trocchio says.

Time travel is certainly a feat that Pei has mastered– albeit metaphorically. Pei’s Legend collection was largely inspired by Switzerland’s Cathedral of Saint Gall, a pit-stop on her journey working with Swiss haute couture fabric manufacturer Jakob Schlaepfer. Her crucifix-adorned, saintly ornate collection runwayed at Paris’ La Conciergerie, the final place of imprisonment before Marie Antoinette’s beheading.

Pei’s installation offers a cross-continental cultural experience for the senses– and the soul. The collection was, after all, inspired by a Catholic church. Pei sure makes a case for jewels, gold and embroidery as the new holy trinity in fashion.

But the stuff of legends doesn’t stop there. Carmen Dell’Orefice, known as the oldest working model, at 85 closed Pei’s 2017 runway in a gown bloody enough to rival the Queen Of Hearts. Mere mention of the creation’s scarlet gemstones and consuming ruby lace is enough to wake the imagination. But fluttering hearts beat still, for the NGV has projected the runway on screens outside the exhibition room, for an all-encompassing experience. Be sure not to miss it on your way out.

Another must-see is the animated ceiling in the exhibition room. The NGV’s multimedia team collaborated with Guo Pei’s Rose Studios to mimic the domed ceiling of the St Gall cathedral, in all its worshipping glory.

“The exhibition is quite spectacular, theatrical...otherworldly,” Di Trocchio says, “the design creates a beautiful setting for the work, a quite immersive experience in the space.”

To be christened into the world of Guo Pei, and gain a better understanding of the architectural elements in both her references and final designs, catch Paola Di Trocchio’s talk at the NGV. Listen to her discuss the process of taking an 18th Century cathedral, and manifesting it into a collection of haute couture gowns. And then through the process of mimicking such a religious awakening in an exhibition setting, no less.

Architecturally Inspired Fashion: Guo Pei’s Legend Collection is on 1PM, Saturday 3 March at the NGV. Architecturally Inspired Fashion: Guo Pei's Legend Collection is part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Arts Program.

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