The Met Gala red carpet was shaping up to be a respectful but restrained affair of tasteful red dresses and flame-like silhouettes on Monday night. Then Rihanna appeared on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an imperial yellow, fur-trimmed cape that was embroidered with scrolls and scrolls and scrolls of flora (and a headdress!).
“I’m so in love with this dress, but the train is insane!” Rihanna told VF.com on the red carpet. “I can’t really walk in it without any help. But it’s so worth it. I love this dress so much! It’s Chinese couture and it’s made by Guo Pei. It’s handmade by one Chinese woman and it took her two years to make. I found it online.”
“I was researching Chinese couture on the Internet and I found it,” she said.
That makes fashion’s most-watched woman (pop diva, category) one of the few attendees at this year's Met Gala (theme: “China: Through the Looking Glass”) to wear a Chinese designer. It also caps off a big moment for Pei, who is fresh off a collaboration with MAC Cosmetics and has two garments in the Met’s exhibition. She is a go-to designer for Chinese stars like Li Bingbing and Zhang Ziyi and has been profiled by the Wall Street Journal and the Times, but her name remains relatively unknown in Western fashion (a curious phenomenon of the kind the Met’s show is well-poised to address). Profiling her in 2010, Cathy Horyn compared Pei to Charles James, the American couturier who was the subject of last year’s Costume Institute exhibit.
The laborious production process for Pei’s garments is something of a signature. Her “Magnificent Gold” dress that appears in the Met show took 50,000 hours to make, Pei told the Cut, while her “Blue & Porcelain” dress, also on display, took 10,000 hours.
In a comment that seems prescient of Rihanna’s show-stopping look on Monday, Pei told the blog of her designs, “The focus and attention paid to this dress will make it remembered by the world—I want is to make them remember…. It is my responsibility to let the world know China’s tradition and past, and to give the splendor of China a new expression. I hope that people do know China in this way.”
Some Pictures of Rihanna’s Red Carpet-Winning Met Gala Dress: