Playwave Creative


Yellow is Forbidden
Reviewed by Nicole Pingon

“Couture is more than a piece of clothing. It's an expression. It's art.”

Recognised for her luxurious fabrics, intricate embroidery, use of gold thread and jewels, Chinese designer, Guo Pei calls herself one of the slowest designers in the world. With pieces taking between five-thousand and fifty-thousand hours to make and weighing up to 50kg, Guo’s spectacular works of art have gained global recognition, even naming her one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2016.

New Zealand documentary director, Pietra Brettkelly captures an intimate real-time portrait of Guo Pei’s meticulous process through her cinéma verite approach. We watch as she prepares for her 2017 Spring Collection at the La Conciergerie in Paris - her opportunity to earn an invitation to France’s prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (with members consisting of Christian Dior, Chanel and Givenchy). Along the way, we’re given exclusive access into the politics of the haute couture world, a high-pressure industry revealed to be as controlling and protective as one would expect, for without an invitation from the Commission, a designer’s work is only considered couture.

Almost mimicking a ‘day in my life’ vlog in style, Brettkelly and cinematographer Jacob Beyant quietly follow Guo, capturing over 250 hours of candid moments. Guo showcases her jovial energy as a loving mother, wife and daughter, and is open about her demanding perfectionism and the difficulties in maintaining a business and her costly passion for couture.

Yellow is Forbidden

While this provided a close-up view on Guo’s life and her artistry, it ironically lacked a real sense of connection with its audience. We never really get an opportunity to find out who she is as a person and what inspires her as an artist beyond her immediate desire for recognition from the Haute Couture Commission. I would have loved to find out what drives her passion for couture, or at least delve into her inspiration for the collection, rich in occidental aesthetics and religious figures. Was it to fit in to Western expectations, inspired by her religious affiliations, or simply chosen for its grand beauty?

The film quietly alludes to the many intriguing crossroads Guo faces, being a Chinese woman trying to break into an industry dominated by men in the West, and balancing Chinese tradition with Western modernity - I just wish they were explored in more depth. But the very nature of Brettkelly’s observational approach, avoiding interviews and scripted content, pushes me to suspect this imperfect and incomplete picture of Guo Pei was intentional, leaving us with space to reflect and make our own conclusions of her character and the exacting fashion industry.

Guo Pei gave Brettkelly a humbling level of trust to allow this documentary to be made, and it’s satisfying to see it doesn’t stand as an unapologetic homage to Guo and the world of haute couture. Even if it may struggle to resonate with audiences without a vested interest in high fashion, Guo Pei is undeniably a designer to watch out for, and I’m interested to see what she creates next.

6 - 17 June 

Want more?