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5 Questions with Rafael Gomes

ANYONE familiar with the awards season hoopla in Hollywood knows that it doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing—it’s who.

Celebrities on the red carpet are asked the name of their designer dozens of times throughout the evening, and the answer matters. The same names often get repeated ad infinitum, but when a celebrity takes a chance on an unknown designer, the result can be extraordinary.

Take Rihanna’s extravagant yellow gown she wore to the 2015 Met Gala. The gala’s theme was “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Rihanna found Chinese designer Guo Pei and her yellow gown, and the rest is history in the best-dressed lists.

Though Guo Pei had been designing for over twenty years at the time, Rihanna’s gown catapulted her into notoriety. She made her Paris Fashion Week debut just months after Rihanna wore her gown, and she is the first Chinese national designer asked to join the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, or a trade association of high fashion, a prestigious honor.

Now, SCAD presents the first solo American exhibition of Guo Pei’s works in a joint exhibition between its Savannah and Atlanta campuses. “Guo Pei: Couture Beyond” opened at the Pei Ling Chan Gallery on Oct. 27 and features work from her “An Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream” collection, which won her the Best Dressed Design Award at China International Fashion Week. The exhibition remains up until Mar. 4, 2018.

We spoke with Rafael Gomes, head of fashion exhibitions at SCAD, last week.

1. Why did you decide to host this exhibition? What does it mean for SCAD to host the first American exhibition of Guo Pei's work?

Guo Pei is one of the most important international designers working today. Many fashion aficionados are aware of the imperial yellow cape Rihanna wore to the 2015 Met Gala, but not as aware of the designer behind it.

SCAD’s relationship with Guo Pei began at the time she was preparing for her first haute couture collection during Paris Fashion Week. We have worked with her and her team closely since then. Her devotion to the revival of beautiful traditional embroidery techniques, colors and silhouettes that were lost during the Cultural Revolution has positioned her as a bridge between contemporary China and its past. SCAD is honored to present her first solo US exhibition of garments from the past decade. The exhibition and forthcoming book provide a unique teaching opportunity for students and visitors.

Guo Pei is a modern messenger of China’s past. SCAD invites visitors to view the show in-person (at Pei Ling Chan in Savannah and SCAD FASH in Atlanta) to fully appreciate the meticulous attention to detail, opulent materials, and extraordinary skill of her atelier in the creation of these works of art.

The exhibition is a survey of the last decade [2006–2016] and where possible we have endeavored to show the entire look as it was presented on the runway, including shoes, jewelry, headpieces, belts, and other accessories. The gowns in the show required numerous artisans and time to create. Guo Pei is truly the antithesis of “fast fashion” and defies trends.

2. What does it mean to a designer to have their work picked up by a celebrity?

The gown Rihanna wore to the 2015 Met Gala was so heavy that when it debuted on the runway as part of Guo Pei's spring 2010 collection, the model wearing it couldn't make it off the runway. The lights were killed and she was helped down. Consequently, the piece didn't receive as much press as it should have at the time. When Rihanna graced the red carpet wearing it five years later, the event exposed Guo Pei to a broader international audience and made her instantly recognizable.

3. How did you choose which ten garments to display in Savannah?

The pieces exhibited here in Savannah are all very special. Two of the gowns are from Guo Pei's first collection shown in Paris. The others are from a collection called "An Amazing Journey in a Childhood Dream." Guo Pei designed it while she was pregnant, and it wasn't until the collection was complete that she realized she was designing for the way she felt during her pregnancy. The garments are very voluminous with shapes reminiscent of a women's figure when she's with child.

4. How does haute couture fashion, as opposed to prêt-à-porter, fit into the SCAD Fashion department?

SCAD's award-winning fashion programs prepare students for blossoming careers across the full spectrum of fashion —from the conceptual and couture to the commercial. The fashion programs consistently garner high praise.

In addition, whenever possible, SCAD FASH collaborates with SCAD Museum of Art to bring a complementary exhibition to Savannah. The two museums also exhibit looks from the university’s permanent collection of garments created by the world’s leading fashion houses.

5. What are the differences between the Savannah and Atlanta exhibitions?

The garments at Pei Ling Chan gallery give a breathtaking introduction to China’s most renowned couturier.  We invite our museum guests to SCAD FASH for a more immersive experience. This retrospective marks the first time Guo Pei’s work has been shown in a dedicated U.S. exhibition. The featured designs span her illustrious career, and the dual exhibition includes more than 55 garments and accessories.