Gowns that are more than just fashion
Get up-close with the gown made famous by Rihanna, which is on show at the Asian Civilisations Museum. (Photo: Asian Civilisations Museum)

Gowns that are more than just fashion

When Rihanna wore the gown christened Yellow Queen to the 2015 Met Gala, images of it went viral on the Internet. Some saw in the dress an omelette, while others were reminded of the cartoon character Big Bird.

Seen up-close though, the bright yellow, fur-trimmed cape gown, which weighs 25kg, is simply splendid. And audiences here can now ogle in person its intricate embroidery, which took scores of artisans a total of 6,000 hours to make.

The dress is among 29 masterpieces designed by top Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei that are on display at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The show, Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture, is the museum’s first special exhibition dedicated to fashion. Beyond the runway dazzle, the show is at heart about the powerful reimagination of Chinese art, design and tradition for contemporary times.

A bridal collection by couturiere Guo Pei, who was inspired by the Peranakan Museum’s travelling exhibition to Paris that she caught in 2010. (Photo: Russel Wong Photo)

Sumptuous haute couture dresses and bridal gowns are shown alongside 20 Chinese artefacts in the exhibition. The juxtaposition introduces visitors to aspects of Chinese art and culture – from materials like silk and porcelain, to the craft of embroidery, and motifs like peonies and phoenixes.

Mr Kennie Ting, director of the Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum, says: “Our aim is to make a point about how heritage and tradition are very much relevant to the contemporary, and can be remarkably sexy and alluring.”
Guo’s bridal dresses, for example, are a refreshing marriage of historical, cultural and contemporary elements. One of her designs, in fact, was influenced by a Peranakan bridal ensemble in the Asian Civilisations Museum’s collection.

Guo Pei’s lotus and goldfish bridal top and skirt (dress on right), was worn by Chinese celebrity Angelababy at her wedding in 2015. (Photo: The A List)

Guo had clapped eyes on the Peranakan ensemble when she visited the Peranakan Museum’s travelling exhibition to Paris in 2010. The ensemble, with its scalloped edges, is of a striking orange colour known affectionately as “pinang orange” to Peranakan Chinese in Penang. The colour gets its name from the areca nut (pinang), which the Peranakan Chinese chewed as a social pastime.

So enamoured was Guo by the Peranakan bridal ensemble that she was determined to reinterpret it for a contemporary Chinese bride. Her version features a tighter silhouette, tapered sleeves and a single skirt instead of two. Chinese celebrity Angelababy was the lucky bride who wore the elegant creation at her wedding in 2015 to Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming.

For Guo, bridal dresses are more than just fashion statements. They are heirlooms that embody a family’s heritage, love, hopes and blessings, to be passed down through generations. No prizes then, for correctly guessing her favourite section in the show.

Don’t miss Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture; details here.

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