Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture is the first fashion exhibition of its kind in Singapore and is being held at the Asian Civilisations Museum. The exhibition marks the start of the museum’s guiding theme for the year, ‘Season of Chinese Art’. We spoke to the exhibition curator, Jackie Yoong, to find out what inspired her, what it was like working on the exhibition and her must see pieces.
From a curatorial standpoint, what do you think is the most intriguing aspect of the exhibition?
In Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture, fashion and history come full circle when we displayed Chinese historical artefacts together with Guo Pei’s exquisite works of couture. We see how traditional colours, designs and techniques—like yellow and gold, dragons and phoenixes, gold and silk thread embroidery—are reimagined and rejuvenated by a leading couturier of China today. Like great works of historical Chinese export art, Guo Pei’s hybrid designs reflect how ideas and skills from the East and West have always influenced one another, resulting in fantastical new creations. I feel visitors will enjoy this visual feast and dialogue between history and the contemporary.
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It’s the first fashion exhibition that the Asian Civilisations Museum is hosting, how do you feel about being a part of it?
This is a new milestone for the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), and I am very excited and proud to be part of it. This exhibition is also a step in emphasising fashion and textiles as an important material medium of culture and art, besides the more recognised Chinese art mediums of bronzes, jades and ceramics. It is also our first contemporary fashion exhibition, highlighting our commitment to appreciating Chinese and Asian civilisations across time boundaries, and up to the present. Given the relevance and intimacy of contemporary fashion to the regular visitor, such exhibitions have been setting visitorship records in leading fashion museums worldwide – and I hope that this exhibition will resonate with our audiences here as well.
What was your inspiration behind the exhibition?
The origins of the exhibition was serendipitous. ACM chanced upon an image of a Guo Pei bridal dress worn by celebrity actress Angelababy at her wedding, and instinctively felt that it strongly resembled a 1930s Peranakan bridal set in our collection. Upon further correspondence, we found out that while Guo Pei was visiting our museum’s traveling exhibition on Peranakan Chinese art in Paris in 2010, she was so captivated by that very bridal set that she designed one in response. We spoke about reuniting these pieces, and the exhibition concept expanded from this shared passion in keeping Chinese art and heritage relevant and alive. Every couture piece and ACM artefact in this exhibition was carefully chosen and paired, to show how Guo Pei’s works creatively reimagines significant Chinese artistic traditions for a contemporary audience.
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What are your thoughts on this exhibition being part of the museum’s ‘Season ofChinese Art’?Chinese art is incredibly rich in history and culture. And as Asia and China continue to grow more prominent in the global landscape, we hope that by bringing in the best of Chinese art and craftsmanship, we can re-ignite new found wonder for Chinese artistic achievements from past to present. There will be three exhibitions in this season, beginning with Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture, which has a strong emphasis on contemporary relevance. Indeed, a significant section of the exhibition is Guo Pei’s elegantbridal dresses – many displayed for the first time outside Beijing – which reflects how she is influencing Chinese wedding culture today in artistry and patronage, beyond the runway.
What are your must see garments from the exhibition?
Apart from the pairing which inspired this exhibition—Guo Pei bridal dress and Peranakan bridal set—you should not miss the Guo Pei’s signature work 大金 (Magnificent Gold). Requiring 50,000 hours to complete, this masterpiece symbolises her team’s devotion to creating the most beautiful dress possible by hand. The stunning dress, made up of long, slim panels richly embroidered with designs of lotus and floral scrolls, radiates like the sun, corresponding to the theme of her first couture collection Samsara (a concept of life cycles in Hindu-Buddhist religion). Every time I look closely at its incredible details, I am very moved—it’s like a spiritual experience.
And yes, Guo Pei’s most famous work Yellow Queen is also here. The spectacular 25-kg cape with a three-metre train embodies the moment Guo Pei rose to international fame when Rihanna wore it to the MET Gala in 2015.
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Watch the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the setting up of Yellow Queen and virtual walkthrough of the exhibition with Mr Kennie Ting, Director of Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum.
Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture exhibition is at Asian Civilisations Museum and opens to public on 15 June. Visit their website for more information.