When Rihanna wore a fur-trimmed yellow satin gown by the Chinese-born designer Guo Pei to the Met Gala on Monday night, it became the talk of Twitter, which erupted with jokey comparisons to omelets and pizzas. Memes using cartoon characters like SpongeBob SquarePants were rampant. “The fashion world pretty much came to a standstill,” Glamour magazine wrote of the “jaw-dropping” cloak, while Time magazine declared that the singer stole the show.
Yet Ms. Guo isn’t the first Chinese-born designer to create a media meltdown with a spectacular design. The “X-Men” star Fan Bingbing wore a bright yellow dragon dress by Laurence Xu to the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, and The Hollywood Reporter wrote that it “launched her into the style stratosphere.” “Sensational!” the website Red Carpet Awards proclaimed.
The dress got so much attention, in fact, that the actress Qin Hailu complained publicly that Ms. Fan was using the dress to cast herself as China’s leading lady (a charge that Ms. Fan denied), and London’s Victoria & Albert Museum ultimately snapped it up for its permanent collection. Now, that dress and two Guo Pei designs are part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Costume Institute exhibition, “China: Through the Looking Glass.”
Juxtaposed against a dragon dress made by Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent, Mr. Xu’s gown highlights the different ways contemporary Chinese designers interpret their aesthetic history, and reflects the approach of a new wave of Asian creators who are drawing attention and acclaim for work that is defined by a modern balance between East and West.
Last year, for example, Yiqing Yin, the Chinese-born, Paris-based couturier who won the fashion designer of the year award at France’s prestigious Globes de Cristal in April, was named artistic director of the French fashion house Léonard. And in 2008, Qiu Hao won the International Woolmark Prize, thanks to the hand-woven fabrics he uses in his minimalist, architectural looks.
“With so many brands doing so many different things, and a country of 1.3 billion people, the Chinese designers don’t have to adapt to us in the West, and we’ll see this develop,” said Gemma A. Williams, the author of “Fashion China.” “They will learn from what we’ve done and put their own spin on it.”
Angelica Cheung, the editor in chief of Vogue China, wrote in an email. When the magazine started, in 2005, she struggled to find local designers to fill her pages, but is now, according to her, completely overwhelmed.
当 2005 年《时装》杂志中国版起步的时候，主编张宇很难找到本土设计师来填充版面，但据她说，现在已经是应接不暇了。
Chinese street-style stars like Leaf Greener, a stylist and former senior fashion editor of Elle China, are helping bring these Chinese designers to a broader audience, whether on Facebook and Instagram or on Chinese microblogging sites like Weibo and WeChat.
Christopher Bu, a former stylist who became a designer in 2010, attributes the fast success of his label to Weibo feeds that have showcased celebrities in his clothes, like Xu Fan and Fan Bingbing, who modeled his gold gown and geometric cape at the Met.
For Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Costume Institute show, this is a reflection of the future. “As the Chinese designers are so sophisticated in technology, and the future of fashion is technology, Chinese designers are well placed to take advantage of this, opening up the market and the parameters of fashion,” he said.