Artist Spotlight: Guo Pei


Jocelyn Wang

Courtesy of Jocelyn Wang Guo Pei “Legend of the Dragon” collection featured at SF museum


Guo Pei, China’s leading high fashion courtier, creates dazzling outfits where eastern culture meets western. She uses fabric and fashion as a means of cultural experience, with her embroidery often depicting Chinese cultural heritage. She preserves the beauty of the olden times and adds a spin of modern style, using traditional ways of hand-sewing mixed with culturally diverse designs. 

Pei was born in Beijing, China in 1967. Her love of fashion started when she was very young; she started sewing when she was 2 years old. Pei was born during China’s Cultural Revolution, a time in which communist ideas were upheld and many traditional elements were purged, including lots of traditional arts of all mediums. As a result, many of Pei’s works include a variety of traditional Chinese elements as a dedication to Chinese tradition, a lot of which she learned about from her grandmother. She developed a passion for dressmaking and continued to work hard. In 1986, she graduated at the top of her class with a degree in fashion design. Pei spent the next years working for privately owned clothing manufacturers, her works increasing in popularity throughout China with its sudden demand for fashion. With her success, Pei left to start her own business: a fashion label and altier. In an interview with the San Francisco Legion of Honor Museum, she expressed that she’d felt that “her corporate designs were lacking. She wanted freedom, and the opportunity to express herself and design the clothes that she liked.” Her own brand provided her exactly that. 

Now that she had this freedom, she wanted to learn more about her culture from before the Cultural Revolution took away beauty from China. She traveled all over China, asking people who had lived during the pre-Revolution times about fashion: ways of sewing, embroidery, art pieces, and clothing designs. She wanted to rebuild lost traditions and pass them on for future generations. While her designs feature lots of cultural aspects, she says that she has never deliberately worked to integrate them into her designs, they just came naturally with her heritage. 

Her designs brought her fame and recognition, from business daywear, to elegant gowns for the red carpet, to elaborate wedding gowns, or costumes for films. Pei designed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the annual CCTV New Year’s glass as well. She shot to fame in the West in 2015, when the singer Rhianna wore her designs to the Met Gala. In a breathtaking golden dress, Rhianna boosted Pei’s reputation and influence. She became an icon for her intricate designs, beautiful embroidery, and cultural merging. She was featured in many museums such as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City,  Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and recently (still ongoing until November 2022), Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. Guo Pei has been one of the few designers from Mainland China to become an invited member of the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, opening up opportunities for her to put on shows at the Paris Haute Couture Week, which she does spectacularly. 

Guo Pei has been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and one of the Business of Fashion’s 500 most influential people shaping the global fashion industry. (her website). Pei’s works are all reflections of her childhood dreams of “the most beautiful dress in the world, as told by her grandmother”. She works to inspire every artist out there to be proud of their culture and unafraid to chase their dreams.