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Guo Pei was born in Beijing in 1967, at a time when high fashion and international influences were both dangerous pursuits in China. "During the Cultural Revolution, so many things were destroyed in China," she says. "Embroidery was one of them." When she launched her business in 1999, it was difficult to find skilled craftspeople. Today, she employs about 500 artisans, including 300 embroiders and 150 designers, pattern makers, and sewing technicians. Rose Studio creates imaginative, elaborate gowns for Chinese celebrities and lavish ceremonial occasions, such as the dress worn by singer Song Zuying during the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony--adorned in 200,000 Swarovski diamonds sewn on by hand.

This past September, Guo showcased her designs in the United States for the first time, at the inaugural China Fashion Night gala in New York, where reserving a table reportedly cost $10,000 to $30,000. Her lavishly tailored gowns cost far more: Prices start at about $80,000.

While much of Rose Studio’s clientele is exclusive and very wealthy (the studio features silver Moroccan tables, fox-pelt rugs, and a grand, sweeping staircase in the shape of a gold phoenix), Guo recently opened a Shanghai store with a different customer in mind. It sells demi-couture bridal gowns to the fast-growing ranks of upper-middle-class Chinese brides. For them, the work of China's first bonafide couture designer is suddenly accessible.