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The Seven-Thousand-Hour Dress, And More From China’s Most Extravagant Couturier

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Guo Pei is China’s answer to haute couture. The last time she showed her collection, she sent Carmen Dell’Orefice out in an embroidered, fur-trimmed cape so heavy it took four men to help the legendary model make it down the runway. So expectations were high earlier this week when Guo, whose sculptural, over-the-top creations have drawn admirers including Lady Gaga, mounted her first fashion presentation in more than two years, in Beijing.

In the second of two showings in a soaring industrial space, visitors on Monday entered via a blacked-out exhibition displaying Guo’s 30 startlingly handcrafted takes on traditional Chinese wedding dresses: sunburst collars, acres of silk, and more hand embroidery than you could shake a needle at. According to the punctilious wall texts, one dress took 7,412 hours to make; another incorporated 465,756 pearls. And the show hadn’t even started yet.

Once it did, it was an immaculately constructed dark fairy tale of dragon manes, impossibly high wedges, vertiginous headpieces, and ballet dancers, all under the rubric “Legend of the Dragon,” and all slowly paced, shown one at a time. With arguably her country’s most high-wattage client list, Guo in many ways represents China’s new Gilded Age. But her true message was rather more understated: “My goal was to let more people see beautiful things, especially beautiful handicrafts,” she said. “We want to inspire a greater appreciation for traditional crafts, so that they can continue.”

Photo: AFP / Getty Images

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