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"Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy" at the Legion of Honor

If you live in the Bay Area, and haven't been already, I highly recommend a visit to the Guo Pei exhibit at the Legion of Honor.

Guo Pei is a Chinese fashion designer. The pieces on display are true works of art, creative fantasies with glorious embroidery, melding European and Chinese influences and aesthetics.

I am not a fashionista, the only clothes I've made are pajama pants, and the most embellishment I've ever put on a quilt is a label on the back. But I was amazed and inspired by the beauty and quality of workmanship in the embroidery, and fascinated by the stories behind some of the fashion.

From an article in the SF Chronicle: "'What we’re showing in this exhibition are true fantasy pieces that she created for these theatrical performances on the runway,' said Jill D’Alessandro, the curator in charge of costume and textile arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 'She sees the couture runway like a form of theater. What we’re showing here never really was made for a client base to wear.'"

One part of the exhibit is in its own space; the rest of the ensembles are displayed with parts of the permanent collection at the museum. The exhibition placards and audio guide will give you all the stories behind the works; my pictures and commentary here are just a teaser of some of my favorite pieces.

Seeing this gown together with the installation of the Spanish church ceiling above it enhanced my appreciation for both works:

And these 21st century gowns seemed right at home in the 18th century Salon Doré:

To be honest, I wasn't paying attention to the rest of the art in the room when I saw this caped ensemble. Like I said, I'm not an embroiderer or an embellisher, but this made me want to be one:

This pottery-like blue and white dress was another one of my favorites. The intricate designs you see are embroidery, not printed fabric, and the headdress is made with reconstructed broken pottery, complete with crystals highlighting the shapes of the shards. The much-less-architectural dress next to it was one of the only items on display actually meant to be worn.

Some of the textiles created for the dresses were remarkable, too. Several included gold thread as part of the fabric, not just as part of the embroidery, like the robe in the center of this group:

A couple of dresses were made with mother-of-pearl fabric:

Some dresses were pieced from antique kimonos, with the thready "wrong side" of the fabric featured on the outside:

I'd love to find occasions to wear some of these outfits, but the shoes don't look so practical (nor comfortable):

The exhibit runs through September 5, 2022 at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. Go check it out if you can. If you've already been, let me know below which part was your favorite!



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Oct 05, 2022

Guo Pei exhibit has been extended to November 27th.


Jun 23, 2022

I went to the exhibit on Tuesday with 3 of my college sorority sisters for a birthday celebration. The dresses perfectly substituted for an elaborately decorated birthday cake we then didn't have to consume. Hard to chose a favorite, but I do love the fan dress. And the mother-of-pearl pieces almost look like something a California woman might be able to wear. Thanks, Kirsten, for this wonderful write up. ❤️Candy

Pati Fried
Pati Fried
Aug 21, 2022
Replying to

You summed it up perfectly Candy! Pati



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