Book List of the Week

Telling a Story About Beauty: Guo Pei’s Book List—A Conversation with Zara Arshad

By Steve Kroeter September 11, 2012

Guo Pei

Zara Arshad

Fashion designer Guo Pei: Rose Studio Fashion Co. Ltd. (Beijing)

Profile     Book List

Design writer Zara Arshad: Design China (Beijing)


Guo Pei—who has been called China’s answer to Alexander McQueen—talks to Design China’s Zara Arshad for Designers & Books—about the role of books in the fashion designer’s life and work. (The conversation appears in Chinese at the end of this post.)

Zara Arshad: What are some of your earliest memories of books?

Guo Pei: Ever since my childhood, I have loved reading books. Reading even just one book makes me feel as if I have been on a journey of a thousand miles. When I was growing up in China in the 1980s, however, books were really scarce. There were very few titles available on the market and books from abroad were unheard of. Low living standards also meant that published material was mostly unaffordable for the masses. Some publications were even priced as high as $100–200!

Book: Moda, Collezioni speciale Donna, Autumn/Winter 1995/'96

The first time I saw a book on fashion was actually a fashion magazine called “BOOK.” It cost about 500 RMB at the time—nearly my entire month’s salary—but I thought it was just beautiful and decided to invest. I have continued to buy books ever since then—a time period extending over nearly 30 years now. This June, for example, my husband and I returned to China with around 220 pounds of books from Europe! We have whole rooms dedicated to books in both our house and at my studio, and I often buy more than one copy of the same book in order to share my collection with others.

ZA: One of the books you've mentioned to me is not about fashion at all, but about Chartres Cathedral in France. Can you talk a bit about the impact of this book and of Chartres on you?

GP: It is not so much the contents of this book that are important to me, but the memories and experiences it evokes. The first time I visited or even saw a cathedral was in Milan in 1999. This was also my first time in Europe. I was especially impressed by the interiors—especially the stained glass windows. I remember looking up at one of the windows and just gazing at the light shining though. At that moment in time, it felt like there was an entirely different world outside. It was also the moment that I realized my goal in life. Spaces like these are created to generate dialogue with God, but they also tell a story about beauty. I believe in the existence of beauty, and everything starts if you believe. This moment was when I realized I could achieve my goals, and that it was just a matter of believing.

Guidebook to Chartres Cathedral, from Guo Pei’s library

ZA: How do you see books in relation to your work as a designer?

GP: Books have played a vital role in shaping my career as a fashion designer. When I was studying, I did not learn much from my teachers: there was no support for design education back then. I can say with confidence that most things I have learned have come from books.

I believe that design can never be too far away from the past; designers should learn about the past to inform their own designs and become a part of history themselves. From this standpoint, you can see the influence on my work today of what I've learned through the book The Complete Costume History. 

From Guo Pei’s “1002nd Arabian Night” haute couture collection and show, 2010

The book Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute pushed me to want to build China’s first fashion museum. I have two dreams in life: to build a fashion museum, and to create a fashion library to inspire future generations. I think that books are vital to the development of Chinese design and design education: much like planting a tree in order to let it blossom and grow, rather than placing a flower in a vase that will eventually wilt and die.

From Guo Pei’s “1002nd Arabian Night” haute couture collection and show, 2010
From Guo Pei’s “Legend of the Dragon” haute couture collection and show, 2012

ZA: Is there a book that has resonated with you recently?

Yves Saint Laurent, limited edition in 2 volumes, 2010 (Editions de la Martinière)

GP: I recently bought a limited-edition boxed set of books on Yves Saint Laurent's collected works from 1962 to 2002 from a museum in Paris. This is 50 years of history—from when Yves Saint Laurent studied as a young designer until he passed away in 2008. Each book features sketches and drawings done by hand, and the contents are deeply moving. The entire set weighs 88 pounds in total, but it was definitely worth bringing back to China!


All images courtesy of Rose Studio Fashion Co. Ltd.

View Guo Pei’s Profile     View Guo Pei's Book List

See more fashion designers’ book lists

See also Designers & Books Fair 2012 program, Oct. 27: Chinese Design Culture Now



郭培-她被称为中国的Alexander McQueen-与Design China(设计中国)的阿飒因为Designers & Books(设计师与书)相聚,聊到了书在这位时装设计师的生活和工作中的角色







我相信设计离开历史,是走不长久的。设计师应该从经典中汲取精髓,完善自身的同时,也让自己成为设计史的一部分。你可以在我的设计中看到《戏服的历史(The Complete Costume History)》这本书对我的影响。

另一本书,《时装:京都服装研究所典藏(Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute)》则让我产生了建中国第一所时装博物馆的想法。我有两个梦想,一是建立中国第一座时装博物馆,另一个就是建一座服装图书馆,让一代代年轻人从中受益。我认为书籍对中国设计和设计教育是至关重要的:与其把花插在花瓶里,等待凋零的一天,不如种一棵树,待它生长、开花。


郭:我最近在巴黎的一家博物馆买了一套限量版《圣罗兰设计稿完整珍藏版(Yves Saint Laurent's collected works from 1962 to 2002)》。这是一部50年的历史-从圣罗兰刚踏上设计道路的学生时代一直到他2008年去世。每本书都包括了他的素描和手绘稿,内容非常感人。整套书重达88磅,但绝对值得带回中国。

Chinese translation by Lynn Zhang.

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