Magazine article Screen International

'Yellow Is Forbidden': Tribeca Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Yellow Is Forbidden': Tribeca Review

Article excerpt

Eye-opening documentary about Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei

Yellow Is Forbidden

Dir: Pietra Brettkelly. New Zealand. 2018. 94 mins

“I’m a designer, not a nation,” argues Chinese fashion phenomenon Guo Pei. But in this account of her conquest of the industry’s most exclusive bastian - Paris’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture - it’s hard not to see a commentary on China’s global influence. Yet Pietra Brettkelly’s film is too polite to treat this milieu, rarefied to the point of being ridiculous, with anything other than intricately embroidered kid gloves.

A fly on the wall approach encourages the audience to make up their own minds about Guo’s drive to earn recognition

The insight into the closed world of haute couture is intriguing. It’s an entity which is trademarked and is as jealously protected by the French as the right to stick a champagne label on a bottle of fizzy plonk. The snobbishness of the institution places our sympathies firmly with the charismatic Guo. But for all this, the film, which is a little too easily dazzled by the bonkers excesses of Guo’s designs, will struggle to claim much of an audience outside of individuals with a vested interest in fashion. Appetites will likely be keenest in territories in which Guo Pei’s work is best known; a showstopping gown worn by Rihanna at the 2015 Met Ball notwithstanding, Guo remains primarily celebrated in her home country.

Guo’s is a formidable success story. The daughter of two Communist party members, she received her education at No 2 Light Industry School, Beijing - a fact which prompts elegantly raised eyebrows and genteel incomprehension among the Western style press who interview her. The title of the film comes from her grandmother’s style rule, which suggested that yellow, and more specifically gold, should be avoided, as it was too closely associated with the former ruling classes. …

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