You may have heard the term haute couture many times but do you know what it really means?
Haute couture is a French word that translates to mean 'high fashion / dressmaking.' It is a specific term that only a select group of fashion houses and designers are awarded with.
Founded in 1868, Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture is the French governing body that determines, by a stringent set of standards, which houses and designers receive this title.
It must be said that not every fashion designer, or clothier working at high levels of craftsmanship, aims to make haute couture.
Haute couture is distinct from other luxury apparel in that each piece is custom made and tailored to a specific individual. The methods of construction are 'by hand' although the use of sewing machines is allowed; the materials used are of the best quality; and it is said, there is no budget in this fashion stratosphere.
As of 2013, it was estimated that there are four thousand haute couture customers in the world.
Until relatively recently, the haute couture moniker, was reserved for French or Italian fashion monoliths like Dior, Chanel, and Valentino.
In more recent times, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, began to broaden their scope to admit members from other parts of the world as guest members.
One such member is Guo Pei.
I must admit, until last year, I had never heard of Guo Pei, but then again, I'm no fashion bunny.
The first time I saw a Guo Pei creation, I was flicking through my IG feed... part of my job! I swear!! And did a Road-Runner-Screeching-To-A-Halt-And-Back-Tracking-With-Feet-Curlecues thing.
It was this dress that stopped me in my tracks:
Guo Pei with a model behind the scenes
You may guess why this confection perfection had my eyes bulging out of their sockets and my jaw dropping to the cool marble floor.
This gown is pure genius. The large pleats below the waist give the impression of the lip of a porcelain plate, sliced into wedges, stacked and reassembled, into a hand fan.
I, too, play with Chinese porcelain pieces and reassemble them into new shapes and forms.
So when I heard the Asian Civilisations Museum was putting on a Guo Pei exhibition, I made a beeline for it. I really really wanted to see this dress in person. And it delivered.
I was also pleasantly surprised at the breadth of the selection of gowns at the exhibition.
From reading the museum descriptions, it seems Guo Pei is a favorite of Chinese celebrities and their stage dressing needs.
Her creations are heavily embellished with embroidery, beads, paillettes, sequins and constructed in dramatic silhouettes.
This gown was beaded with hundreds of thousands, or was it millions, of glass pearls? But who's counting:
I really enjoyed the museum's effort in pairing Ms. Pei's gowns to some of the existing artefacts in their collections like this candelabra:
17th century yang cai candelabra made for export to Europe catering to contemporary European taste of a pastel color palette.
And there was even a parure of gold filigree jewelry made of hornbill ivory, gold, and pearls made in the mid-19th century in Guangzhou or Hong Kong which are every bit as ornate as the Guo Pei creations:
After looking at the highly colorful and intricate feats of fashion in the exhibit, my eyes needed a palate cleanse, so I headed downstairs to the Tang Shipwreck Gallery on the ground floor which provided the calm and subdued colors of early Chinese ceramics for the elite society of Imperial China in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE) . . . I think I just got the inspiration for my next post.
See you in the Tang Shipwreck Gallery!