Filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly Celebrates Guo Pei
“When I was little, I didn’t know what fashion was. The word didn’t exist,” Guo Pei tells Whakatane-born documentarian Pietra Brettkelly in Yellow Is Forbidden, a new film charting the Chinese designer’s fierce ambition to be recognised by Paris’ Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
Brettkelly followed Pei for two years while she was preparing for her spring/summer 2017 show at the La Conciergerie in Paris. The idea to profile Pei came to Brettkelly while sitting on her sofa eating custard. She had just finished A Flickering Truth, which saw her spend two and a half years in Afghanistan following Afghan cinephiles trying to retrieve more than 8000 hours of film footage they concealed during the Taliban era. She was flicking through her folder of creative inspiration in search for her next project and found a note about Pei’s ornately carved shoes. She booked flights to China with her cinematographer, Jacob Bryant, and went to track down Pei just days later.
“I’m really interested in other people’s isolation,” Brettkelly, 53, tells Vogue of what captured her imagination in Pei’s story: “Isolation can bring out some extraordinary things, because there’s a purity of vision. Guo doesn’t have all the inspirations of the West, but she strives for acceptance there. She treads the line between assimilation and acceptance.”
The film footage dips between the daily minutiae and intensive labour behind Pei’s creations, and the wider challenges she faces as a Chinese designer determined to uphold her heritage, while running a modern, lucrative business. “Being the first woman to represent China in the world of couture weighs really heavily on her,” Brettkelly says of the moment in Yellow Is Forbidden, where Pei tells fashion students, “I am not a nation. I am just me.”
The film’s title refers to her mother’s belief that “nobody should wear yellow”, because it the colour of Chinese emperors. Her mother, who is visually impaired and has not been to any of her daughter’s shows, has no idea that Pei’s work does indeed incorporate much yellow, nor that her art is worn by a modern-day style icon at fashion’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Original article by Alice Newbold, Vogue, May 4, 2018.
Photo by Tribeca Film Festival.