Guo Pei titled her couture collection East Palace. Reached backstage at the Palais de Tokyo, the spirited Chinese designer offered the following explanation through a translator: “The Palace of the East isn’t only a building, but also refers to women, because in Chinese culture you have different sayings about women in palaces. It also refers to the outfits and garments women are wearing in these palaces. And you’ll see it in my collection, which reflects all these outfits and garments. As for the people in the audience,” Pei continued, “I don’t really want them to understand the Eastern culture of the Palace of the East. I want them to read all this through their own imagination.”
She certainly set the scene for us. A rendition of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing’s Forbidden City was built in the belly of the museum. Majestic red columns acted as a backdrop for a long parade of hyperbolically elaborate creations. The show had a stately cadence, accentuated by the platforms worn by the models. Exquisitely constructed from the same fabrics used for the dresses, with heels carved like precious antiques, they forced the models to walk at an exceedingly slow pace.
The dresses were so spectacular and theatrical that defining them as sumptuous would be an understatement. It was a pity that the audience could not see them at closer range, to take in the embroidery techniques. We only captured glimpses from afar: an exceptional floral pattern gracing the long, trailing sleeves of a ceremonial silk tunic with protruding shoulders, or the perfectly round, rigidly sculpted shape of a bustier dress’s pouf skirt, embroidered with three-dimensional pale gold imperial dragons along its flat-pleated surface.
There was definitely a compelling extravagance in these creations. You had the feeling that for Pei this wasn’t only a show of garments, but that she was presenting a ceremony. It certainly had ingenuity—and fearlessness.