Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei stunned the world with her canary yellow dress, as worn by Rihanna, at the Met Gala in 2015. It was Guo Pei's moment, but beyond the garment she remained a mystery.

Kiwi documentarian Pietra Brettkelly's Yellow is Forbidden captures the period after Rihanna walked that red carpet, in which Guo Pei launches a campaign (and an enormous, sweeping fashion show) to be accepted into the extremely exclusive, predominantly white, male group of French haute couture elite - a number that includes Chanel, Dior, Givenchy and Gaultier. It is a world largely unwelcoming to outsiders, something that the persistent and dedicated Guo Pei approaches head-on.

Exquisitely shot, pleasingly tactile and detailed, this will of course be catnip for fashion lovers. The amount of eye candy on display throughout the film borders on excessive but what allows the film to retain its interest and power is the charisma and story of its subject.

Guo Pei emerges as a wonderfully engaging anchor, one who faces prejudices on account of both her race and gender, but who has an unerring desire to not be taken for granted and to ultimately succeed.


Yellow is Forbidden mostly avoids all-out hero-worshipping its subject, giving her enough moral shades of grey to keep her story compelling. By the end however, it is hard not to be on her side, occasionally overshadowing some of the more troubling elements of her background and process.

Brettkelly follows the action breathlessly, but with a wonderful sense of narrative and style as Guo Pei and her team (headlined by her gloriously detached but dedicated husband) immerse themselves in the intoxicating world of French haute couture. The camera remains in the background, observing but rarely interjecting.

This all culminates in a stunning, moving finale at Guo Pei's French fashion show. The end result of years of work and a montage of masterpieces that is truly breathtaking.


Pietra Brettkelly

Running time:

97 minutes





Catnip for fashion fans with enough nuance to keep non-fashioniastas hooked.