She has become one of the most influential Asian fashion designers in Paris. Guo Pei came to speak about her career during an exceptional Master Class at ESSEC Executive Education on the La Défense campus. An invited member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris, the Chinese designer returned to her initial years in fashion and her vision of the luxury industry today.
What is your background?
I started studying fashion design in China in 1982, when the concept of fashion was still unknown to the Chinese people, let alone fashion design. I was among the earliest fashion designers in China. 20 years ago I founded my own fashion brand, the Rose Studio, targeting the custom-made fashion design niche. Rose Studio was also among the earliest custom-made fashion brands in China. At that time the Chinese people had little idea what was custom-made clothing, let alone haute couture. For me, I was also searching for a path. Time flies and my professional career is now in its 30th year. About a year ago, I brought my brand to Paris. I was then honored to be a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale in Paris and held my first fashion show in the city. Till now, three shows have successfully been held and it’s very satisfying to see that many people like my design work and accept my ideas. As an haute couturiere, I have always been searching for my own way. The French haute couture design has always been well-known and has always motivated me to progress. Yet I will carry on the path with my own style.
What are your sources of inspiration?
For me inspiration comes from life. Many designers and artists share the same thought. But when I was younger, I didn’t really understand what inspiration was and where it came from. In fact as a youngster, you perceive the world with limitations. I once tried hard to find inspiration when designing something new but nothing came to me. Later on, as your life experience accumulates, you get new perspectives on life and emotions and feelings naturally spill out of my heart. I even felt the willingness to share these feelings with the whole world and to express them to the whole world. That, I think, is where all the inspiration comes from: inspiration comes from life.
How did you become known in China?
In the 80s, customers knew little about fashion and the market potential was huge. I had little knowledge. I grew with the customers and I was lucky enough to live in the days when materials were scarce yet people aspired for beauty and aesthetic appreciation. I remembered that as a pret-a-porter designer, one of my designs sold 50,000 copies. Any design or design idea I had seemed to be adored by my customers. On the street, Chinese people were often to be seen wearing the same clothes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that on my way to work I could count at least 10 people wearing my design. However commercial success did not bring me much happiness. At times I had the impulsion to want to get to the people on the street and tell them they should wear the clothes in another way in order to look perfect. It may be a result of my personality: since I was a little girl I had a strong desire to be a designer and to design beautiful clothes.
“A piece of clothing really can change a man’s life”
How did you manage to reach self-fulfillment?
I feel that I am lucky because my dream has never changed since the beginning. My desire was very strong. The moment I had the capability, I wanted to create my own space. The idea was as simple as it seemed: I wanted to do whatever it took to design and I really wanted to design clothes that looked unrealistic to China at that time, such as beautiful gowns or dresses. Few people could understand me because they thought there were no occasions on which such gowns could be worn. Only in movies could such gowns be seen. It may be because I have such a desire and I crave for freedom in design that I founded my own brand to design custom-made clothes. This is a source of personal happiness because I can face my customers, influence them and use my design to make a difference in their lives and their perceptions. I can make their life more meaningful. And in return I get an unlimited sense of achievement by serving them. And it is not just to design clothes but more of a question of passing on sentiments and love. I think that if you take clothes only as clothes, they are no different than any other commercial product. While for me, clothes carry more – love, feelings, honesty… a piece of clothing really can change a man’s life. 20 years of designing custom-made clothes makes me feel that I’m living in my kingdom of happiness. It gives me the most wonderful sense of achievement and fulfillment. I feel that I truly fall in love with my work.
Is it important for you to talk about your experience, vision of fashion and moreover life in general?
Sharing, communicating and using knowledge to make a difference is very important. This is the basis that builds our society. This is also the basis that builds relationships among people. I came here for this thought. I’m very willing to share. I tell my story, express myself and my emotions not only in my design but also in here. I love to communicate and to share. By sharing, I will also reap the reward of inspiration and perfecting my view of life and world.
What message would you like to give to an ESSEC student who wants to start out in the luxury industry?
I cannot say I’m an expert on luxury product management. I only have some understanding of this industry. I’m willing to share it with everyone, not to mention any suggestions or advice. Simply put, you need to love what you do. The love should be real and sincere. It must not be taken as a tool, a tool that you use to reach your goal, to make a buzz and to make money. You need to love, to understand and to know it before you do haute couture and enter the luxury industry. Talking about luxury products, I have a different understanding from how people define them. It is not simply about expensiveness and commercial return. I think a luxury product is not just a consumer product. It carries more. It carries life. When designers create luxury products, it is the love that gives them life. That is why they have life. They carry also emotions and love. Their existence can traverse the limit of time. Time in turn proves their value. Luxury products are not made to make money. This is what I think. Luxury products are a treasure of mankind.