First Monday in May

Design from Guo Pei’s Garden of the Soul collection, which was inspired by a visit to the garden where Vincent van Gogh painted his blue irises.

The Met Gala was first established in 1948 as an annual fundraising event and celebration for the opening of the The Costume Institute‘s annual exhibit. It has taken place on the first Monday in May since 2004 and today would have marked the opening of About Time: Fashion and Duration, which explores how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate past, present, and future. Historically an iconic night for both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and fashion, this year’s Met Gala will instead be an intimate live stream celebration – A Moment with the Met – drawing on highlights from Met galas past.

Selection from Guo Pei’s 2006 Samsara collection, which was inspired by her visit to the Musée de l’Armée des Invalides in Paris.

As some of my favourite movies are set in the Met, including The First Monday in May and Oceans 8, I wanted to celebrate this year with a throwback to an exhibit I adored – Guo Pei: Couture Beyond. On display at the Vancouver Art Gallery from October 2018 to January 2019, this exhibition showcased Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei’s evolution as a designer from 2006 to 2017, featuring examples of her signature designs from her most iconic runway shows. Combining contemporary and ancient aesthetics from the Qing Empire (1644-1912), designs, materials and techniques to evoke Chinese history and mythology, her bespoke creations are both theatrical and extravagant.

Dress from Guo Pei’s 2008 collection, An Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream.

Her 2008 collection, An Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream, is both playful and youthful. Inspired by the idyllic innocence of fairy tales, muted pastel shades mimic the fantastical spirit found in children’s book illustrations. Several of the gowns on display employ an elaborate fabric folding technique that resembles origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, while others feature Guo Pei’s interpretation of the Spanish doublet – a close-fitting, baggy sleeved jacket. Echoing the historical garment’s elaborate surface decoration, she utilized both ornamental embroidery and Chinoiserie beading – the eighteenth century tradition of replicating Chinese motifs in European jewellery design.

The opulence of the 1002 Nights collection are particularly visible on the canary yellow imperial cape worn by Rihanna at the 2015 Met Gala, which was a pivotal moment in the designer’s career.

Inspired by a collection of Middle Eastern folktales compiled in Arabic, Guo Pei’s 2010 collection 1002 Nights expanded her artisanship to include unique and decorative patterns, fine metal work, luxury furs and lace – mirroring the opulence of imperial Chinese fashion and the decadence of classic European haute couture.

White Queen gown from Guo Pei’s 2010 collection, 1002 Nights.
The design of this dress replicates a Chinese folding fan with stiff waves of silk draping down the right side of the body.

Another centrepiece of 1002 Nights is a gown designed after China’s traditional cobalt blue and bone white porcelain. Decorated with hand-painted and embroidered ceramic patterns, the silk dress is accompanied by a headpiece made from cracked porcelain. The ensemble took nearly 10,000 hours to complete and was part of the Met’s record-breaking exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass in 2015.

This red silk jumpsuit from the 2012 Legends of the Dragon collection shows two dragons in rolling waves surrounded by clouds, a narrative of dominance over the forces of nature that confirms the dragon’s position of power and fortune.
Adorned with hundreds of flowers, this vintage silk floral gown is a made in a manner similar to those produced for the Chinese imperial palace during the Qing dynasty. Guo Pei and her team spent 50,000 hours crafting the silk flowers and elaborate embroidery.

Legends of the Dragon (2012) draws upon the extravagance of China’s rich cultural history and Guo Pei brings to life the fabled dragon motif, which figures prominently in the Chinese pantheon of zodiac animals. Historically, Chinese emperors would have dragons embroidered on their robes to represent imperial sovereignty and strength. Guo Pei’s gowns transform the traditionally masculine notion of power associated with the dragon, giving new meaning to the otherwise derisive description of a confident woman as a ‘dragon lady.’ The collection also gives prominence to the phoenix with the below dress, a mythological creature whose honesty, grace and beauty were often idealized in the character of an empress.

This vibrant phoenix dress shows the bird ascending in flight from the golden shoulder piece to the long plumage of feathers cascading down the rain and train.

In Guo Pei’s 2016 collection, Encounter, drama is established through the use of black and gold with deep shades of blue, alluding to a more classic romanticism. Each garment represents an archetype of female royalty from a European princess to a Chinese Empress or presidential first lady.

Pieces from the 2016 Encounter collection.

Legends have always been one of my greatest sources of inspiration, unlocking my infinite imagination. The origins of mankind, creation myths and the mysteries of eternal life fascinate me. A part of my soul will always hold onto the most beautiful fantasies inspired by legends. – Guo Pei, 2017

Gown from the 2017 Legends collection.

The materials used in the 2017 Legends collection pay tribute to the haute couture textile and embroidery tradition of St. Gallen and the Cathedral’s painted interiors. Integrating Guo Pei’s lavish aesthetic with reflections on the spirit of devotion, her designs embody the silhouettes of medieval warriors and heavenly saints, rivalling the baroque opulence of the eighteenth-century Swiss cathedral that inspired them.

Dress from Guo Pei’s 2017 collection, Legends collection.
Ancient techniques meet modern fabrics in this dress from the Legends collection.

Museum Musings

It has been suggested to me on several occasions that I should start a blog. I’ve considered it in the past, especially when I was living abroad and when I first finished grad school and was trying to get established as a museum professional, but I didn’t have (or make) the time needed to write regular blog posts with the demands of school and work. 

As I spend quite a bit of my free time visiting museums and galleries and the majority of my travels involve visits to exhibits and heritage sites, I thought that the most meaningful commentary I could provide would be about my adventures in museums, past and present.

I’m going to endeavour to write here regularly about my experiences in the museum world, whether to share my thoughts about a new exhibit, highlight some of my favourite museums or provide a behind-the-scenes look into what it is like to work in the museum field as an informal educator.

I hope you enjoy!

Standing in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in September 2018.