Rihanna in a Guo Pei gown at the 2015 Met Gala. (Photo: Getty)
The 2015 Met Gala featured a lot of Chinese-inspired designs, from gold dragons on Justin Bieber’s Balmain jacket to Kendall Jenner’s high-neck Calvin Klein gown — but when it came to actual Chinese designers from the Middle Kingdom, there were far fewer appearances, though we did see designs from Chinese American designers like Vera Wang.
For an exhibition and party meant to celebrate Chinese fashion and the impact that it’s had on the fashion industry, there was little actual output from China on the attendees. (Unless you count the Made in China tags.) Luckily for the legitimacy of the Met Gala, Rihanna actually did her homework — she stunned the red carpet in a gold fur cape and headpiece by Chinese couture designer Guo Pei, who designed the costumes for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The couturier just released a 16-piece collaboration with MAC Cosmetics, but in spite of her recent success in Western media, she has always been the top designer in China, where all the most prominent socialites and actresses would go to for their ensembles. She recently told The Cut: “I don’t do this for profit. It is my responsibility to let the world know China’s tradition and past, and to give the splendor of China a new expression. I hope that people do know China in this way.”
Her gold-embellished Beijing atelier, Rose Studio, which was established in 1997, is constantly bustling with clients coming in for fittings — usually, they’re Chinese locals, but this may all change after the Met Gala. 48-year-old Guo (the last name comes first in Chinese) challenges the old Paris haute couture guard with her fantastical dresses, such as a gown modeled after a porcelain vase. The silhouettes are always dramatic — but as with any gowns that take 50,000 hours to make, the details are subtle and well worth the many artisans on hand.
In Imperial China, only the emperor was allowed to wear yellow, and the Chinese word for emperor, Huangdi, actually means Yellow Emperor. Well played, RiRi. Yellow symbolized prestige, good luck, and a balance of yin and yang. In spite of this noble choice, a lot of people are taking to social media to make fun of the gown, possibly not knowing the significance of the color yellow:
Rihanna’s choice to wear Guo Pei at the most important fashion event of the year is not only a cheeky statement about her royal status in fashion and pop culture, but also a bold statement that the best and most significant designs don’t always come from Paris, Milan, London, or New York.