Fashion meets fantasy: experience the Guo Pei showcase at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

4 December 2023
By Sarah Murray

Experience the breathtaking creations of designer Guo Pei up close at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, including an iconic Met Gala gown worn by Rihanna.


Even if you don’t know Guo Pei by name, you’ve likely seen her creations on the red carpet. One piece in particular, the “more is more” Yellow Queen gown worn by Rihanna to the 2015 Met Gala, might ring a bell. That famously ornate creation, which weighs 25kg and features a three-metre-long fur-trimmed cape with floral embroidery, took two years to make. It’s the dress Elle magazine named one of the 20th and 21st centuries’ most important gowns. And it’s the dress that subsequently catapulted the Chinese fashion designer to couture stardom. Now, it’s part of a 68-piece collection being showcased in Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki’s exclusive exhibition, Guo Pei: Fashion, Art, Fantasy 郭培 : 时装之幻梦. So who is Guo Pei? Well, before she was propelled onto the global stage, she had a thriving career in fashion, with more than 30 years of experience under her belt. She’s been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, as well as one of Business of Fashion’s top 500. Her breathtaking designs draw on influences from around the world, incorporating extraordinary fabrics, bejewelled embroidery and crystal embellishments. Along with the iconic Yellow Queen gown, the exhibition will feature other haute couture pieces, including Da Jing (Magnificent Gold). Inspired by clothing from the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the piece is covered entirely in gold thread, and took a staggering 50,000 hours to complete. These garments are true works of wearable art.

Guo Pei. © Guo Pei. Courtesy of Guo Pei.
Sketch of The Da Jin (Magnificent Gold), 2005 © Guo Pei. Courtesy of Guo Pei.

“Guo Pei has a remarkably fertile imagination and draws inspiration from an eclectic array of sources,” says the gallery’s in-house curator Margaret Young-Sánchez. “Once she has settled on a theme for a collection, she makes use of both traditional and novel forms, techniques and materials to realise her vision. The results are both extravagantly flamboyant and exquisitely detailed. They transcend fashion to access the realms of art and theatre, and evoke a powerful emotional response.”

From billowing dresses adorned with intricate patterns, to bodysuits evoking mythical creatures, these otherworldly garments take inspiration from Imperial China, European art and the botanical world. Showcasing Pei’s exceptional artistry and imagination, it’s as if these pieces have been conjured from a fairy tale or floated out of a dream.

The exhibition is something Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki was keen to secure. “The current fascination with fashion is global,” says Young-Sánchez. “Our first foray into this arena was a Mary Quant exhibition, which felt like a breath of fresh air after months of Covid-related restrictions. Guo Pei is dramatically different – a spectacular, extravagant fantasy to inspire a wide variety of contemporary audiences. We think it is perfect for Auckland and New Zealand.”

The exhibition is set to delight the crowds and transport you from the runway to the art gallery, presenting a rare opportunity to encounter these exquisite garments in person. It’s certainly an event you won’t want to miss.

Where: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
When: Saturday 9 December 2023 – Sunday 5 May 2024
10am–5pm daily (except Christmas Day)

Book tickets

Guo Pei, Collection: Legend of the Dragon, 2012. Copyright © Guo Pei, Asian Couture Federation. All rights reserved. Photograph by Randy Dodson, courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Guo Pei, Collection: One Thousand and Two Nights, 2010 © Guo Pei. Courtesy of Guo Pei.


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