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Rihanna at the Met Ball 2015 in Geo Pei
Rihanna at the Met Ball 2015via Instagram (@badgalriri)

Guo Pei, the designer behind Rih’s yellow Met dress, on her first UK show

Ahead of her show with the V&A’s Fashion in Motion series, we speak with the designer about inspirations, fashion in China, and that Rihanna dress

When Rihanna turned up to the 2015 Met Gala wearing that yellow dress, Guo Pei, the creative force who designed the ornate gown, saw her life change. The dress, which weighed 25 kilograms, carried a three-meter-long train, and took 6,000 hours to put together, became instantly iconic.

But despite already having a career spanning three decades, after the “Yellow Queen” dress hit the red carpet, the Chinese designer had her first-ever solo exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and one of the Business of Fashion’s 500 most influential people.

Her otherworldly and ornate designs have seen her become one of China’s most foremost designers. Earlier this year, Pei received critical acclaim for her AW19 Couture collection entitled an “Alternate Universe Couture” which presented ornate, complex, and entirely unique pieces.

Inspired by fairy tales, myth, and death, the show opened with two models conjoined in a two-for-one pannier skirt, embroidered with mythical creatures and circus animals. Elsewhere in the collection, decorative crows and incubating eggs nestled into crafted nests which were carved into skirts, dresses were decorated with puppets controlled by a monkey figurine, and models were turned into mummies.

Now, presenting the aforementioned collection as a runway show at the V&A in her first time presenting in the UK, we spoke with the designer about life, death, and fairy tales.


“China’s foray into fashion started much later than most countries. Up to the nineties, the Chinese still did not have a real understanding of fashion. However, my love for designing clothes started very early in my childhood. My grandmother, who lived through the end of the Qing Dynasty, would often describe the lavish costumes worn during her time – the ornate silk, exquisite embroidery, were unique imprints of that era and has always influenced my designs. Designing clothes has always been a passion for me. The first time I went against my parents’ wishes was when I decided to enrol into a Design School. At that time, China did not have a concept of fashion; parents and the elderly did not understand why clothes had to be specially designed. But the social environment gave me a lot of room to develop my creativity as a designer, to set up my own studio and pave my own way until today.”


“To me, all fairy tales and myths are beautiful. No matter how the story goes, the ending is almost always a happy one which fits very well with the theme I want to express in my designs. Of course, fairy tales and myths also provide a freedom for designers to use their imagination which is something I strive for. The themes I’ve been getting most recently are often about life and responsibility. ‘Alternate Universe’, the collection which will be shown at the V&A Museum, is inspired by my thoughts on life and death. Through the years, we see people coming into and leaving our lives, one seeks a serious truth in death. Through this collection, I explore the unknown, explore the subject of death. There is something very pure and beautiful about it.”


“Rihanna’s ‘Yellow Queen’ is from my ‘One Thousand and Two Nights’ couture collection. She had seen a picture of the dress online and contacted us about it. Initially, I was a little apprehensive. I had a queen in mind when designing this piece. It had taken 6,000 hours to make the piece, weighs 25 kilograms and has a 3-metre-long train with three-dimensional classic pattern embroidery all over it. The weight and grandeur of the piece symbolise the responsibilities and challenges of a queen. It is a difficult piece to wear physically given its weight and length of the train. I was not sure if Rihanna was aware of how difficult it is to wear the piece down the red carpet. In the end, she wore it with such bravado and gave the piece a new lease of life.”


“This collaboration gives me the opportunity to present my work to the UK for the first time. It is a wonderful feeling. I am so happy that my work will be seen by people from all walks of life who are passionate about fashion. A designer and her team work incredibly hard to put a collection together that is often presented only once down a runway, glimpsed quickly by the audience. Most collections do not have a second chance to be shown on the runway which I find regrettable. Although I have had my work exhibited more frequently in recent years at various museums which allows more time for people to appreciate the details, the charm of a runway show is irreplaceable.”

Fashion in Motion: Guo Pei will be run from Friday 1 November