Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy features some 80 ensembles, each elaborately imagined, fantastically designed, and meticulously constructed. Walking through the museum, visitors witness ornament’s central role in the connection between Guo Pei’s wearable art and the decorative art featured in the galleries. In the permanent collection galleries in particular, the juxtaposition of Guo Pei’s dresses with the ornate borders and frames of the galleries’ artworks highlights the power of ornamentation, though such embellishment is typically regarded as marginal, peripheral, and even excessive.
Throughout the galleries, Guo Pei’s creations connect the paintings and drawings to ceramic objects from the 17th century, when luminous goods enchanted Europeans in a stylistic craze referred to as chinoiserie. The translucence of Peter Paul Rubens’s fabric pleats, particularly collars and sleeves, complements the diaphanous folds of two celadon dresses from Guo Pei’s 2007 collection, An Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream. The pair of Rubens portraits in the Legion of Honor’s permanent collection present a husband and wife (Rogier Clarisse and Sara Breyel). Guo Pei offers a decidedly feminine form in the two dresses. In her construction of pleated extravagance, bodily form all but disappears beneath a mass of manifold expansions of the dress. Rather than supplemental — as in the garments worn by Rubens’s sitters — Guo Pei’s dresses position the ornamental as essential to the design’s composition. These dresses suggest that fairy tales and dreams are more than flights of fancy; they are a continuous source of strength. This concept is best expressed in the construction of infinitely continuous folds, where each bend meets another pleat and the boundaries between inside and outside, center and periphery, do not exist.