China’s renowned couturier Guo Pei has a cosmetics fridge, a collection of kaleidoscopes and a studio full of dolls
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My personal style signifier is a Chinese-style gold bangle given to me by my brother, who bought it at LaoPu Gold, in Beijing. It is tradition in China to wear one bangle – normally it would be jade but I wear a gold one, as did my mother and grandmother before me. I love gold as a medium, using gold thread in my designs and wearing a lot of gold jewellery. I can feel the power and energy emanating from it.
The last thing I bought and loved was a 400-year-old geisha doll. I began collecting antique Japanese geisha dolls wearing beautiful kimonos because I am fascinated by the fabrics and embroidered detail. I’ve collected between 40 and 50 dolls so far, with many more than 200 years old. They were originally made by Japanese artists for, I believe, their royal family.
And on my wishlist is a beautiful French silk dress from the 17th century that is currently owned by a Swiss collector. It has an extraordinary black sheen obtained by employing an ancient technique that used ivory powder to give it a particular lustre. Since seeing it I’ve been dying to own it, but regrettably it is not for sale.
An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Kyoto, which is where – on an earlier visit – I began my doll collection. I love the city for its handcrafts and fabrics. I even came across a textile made of wood, which is processed from the bark of a sakura cherry tree – I will use it in my next collection. We always stay at the Yoshikawa Ryokan, which was a private residence owned by Ema Tenko, a master of Chinese poetry, before being transformed into an eight-room hotel. It feels as though you are staying in a private house. From ¥30,000 (about £220) per person per night, kyoto-yoshikawa.co.jp
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is an obi belt, because I was drawn to its intricate use of colour. The obi was one of the inspirations for my Himalaya haute-couture collection, which featured precious gold brocade from China and antique Japanese obi fabric. I like to use textiles that are as ancient as possible to give a sense of permanence to the collections.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is a famous Chinese book about life and health called Huangdi Neijing, which translates as The Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, an ancient medical text. It is a bit philosophical but it’s very important for me to understand the inner, spiritual person.
The beauty staple I’m never without is Penhaligon’s Peoneve eau de parfum. The peony is an important flower in China and the fragrance is unusual and not too sweet. £144 for 100ml EDP
A recent memorable meal was at Xin Rong Ji in Shanghai, a Michelin-starred restaurant that specialises in cuisine from Taizhou, which is known for its seafood. My favourite dish is tofu fish, which is a type of small fish and not tofu at all. It is served poached and deliciously tender. xinrongji.cc
My style icon is Carmen Dell’ Orefice, because she has a beautiful big heart and a steely inner strength. She modelled for me a few seasons ago and is now 89, but she has not been diminished by time, which I think makes her even more elegant.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a robe that I designed and sewed myself for a close friend’s baby son. In China we traditionally celebrate when a baby is 100 days old, and I wanted to give him my blessings with something I had made specially for him.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a necklace that once belonged to Coco Chanel. It was given to me last autumn by my New York model-agent Patty Sicular – I believe she received it from a model who was given it by Mlle Chanel. As a Chinese couturier, it is a wonderful connection back to a great Parisian haute couturier.
I have a collection of kaleidoscopes made with glass, metal pieces and coloured scraps of paper. I get lost in their world of pattern and colour. Some are lavishly decorated and others are very refined. The collection includes ’scopes that artists have made exclusively for me, including one by Caomin Xie. I once visited the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope – the world’s largest kaleidoscope – at Mount Tremper, New York, and added to my collection while I was there. xiecaomin.com
If I didn’t live in Beijing, the city I would live in is Bordeaux, where we spent several weeks this year because we couldn’t get home. My husband, two daughters and I stayed in a friend’s château and fell in love with the area, visiting the opera, taking tea in the Grand Hotel and foraging around Antiquités Vivian Morier. A home from home was the Quanjude restaurant, which has branches in Beijing and Bordeaux and serves an amazing Peking duck. quanjude-bordeaux.com
The last music I bought was “Noche de Ronda” from [the compilation] Historia del Bolero en España, which features the 1930s-40s music of Mexican nightclub singer Elvira Rios. I first heard it in a bar on a trip to Mexico City and was captivated.
In my fridge you will find a selection of chocolate and green tea. In fact, we have three fridges, including one for my cosmetics because of Beijing’s humidity, and another filled with Milazzo, our favourite Sicilian wine.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a traditional Chinese embroidered yoke that you drape around the shoulders, over a black sweater or an evening dress. I wanted to make myself something that is symbolic of my culture but not necessarily a traditional Chinese look.
A recent find is Caviar Kaspia in Paris, because I adore the delicious combination of potatoes and caviar and enjoy the typically fashionable Parisian atmosphere. caviarkaspia.com
The objects I will never part with are my Moleskine sketchbooks and Faber-Castell pencils. My third-floor studio, where I retreat to design the couture collections, is full of them – it’s a bit messy, but full of stories, as well as my collections of teddy bears, dolls and books.
I can’t do without time – I love to spend hours working with my clients on designs and intricate embroideries. I could never do ready-to-wear.
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose the streets around Qianmen Avenue in the Dashilan district of Beijing. It is possibly the oldest shopping street in the hutongs, dating back to the 13th-century Yuan dynasty, selling everything from silks to shoes. Liulichang is another favourite street, where antique dealers sell gorgeous silk jacquards, artefacts and jewellery that inspire my work.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be an architect or interior designer, because I love the way an environment and its ambience affects the person within it.
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