Chinese designer Guo Pei was the woman responsible for Rihanna’s 2015 Met Gala dress that left fans with the indelible image of her imperial yellow gown against the backdrop of the red carpet.
So it seems only fitting that director Glen Keane would bring Pei on board to create the costumes for the moon goddess Chang’e (voiced by Phillipa Soo of “Hamilton”) in the animated feature “Over the Moon,” now streaming on Netflix. Meeting Chang’e is the focus of a young girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), whose mother has recently died. Fei Fei builds a rocket ship to meet the goddess, who has powers of reincarnation.
Whether Pei is designing for animation or real people, her goal is to “express the emotion behind the design,” she says. For Chang’e, the signature color was red, which in China symbolizes happiness and good fortune. Here, the designer breaks down two key looks to show how she embedded the love story between Chang’e and her husband, Houyi (voiced by Conrad Ricamora), into the fabric of the moon goddess.
The Royal Dress
“As a goddess, Chang’e should be gorgeous. But she must also be lonely because she separated from her beloved [when she became immortal]. The red is inspired by the Han brocade unearthed in [Chinese archaeological dig site] Mawangdui. Red can perfectly [highlight] Chang’e’s superior image as a goddess while also showing her sorrow more profoundly against such a joyful color.
I designed some elements of ancient Chinese royal dresses in Chang’e’s costumes, such as wide cuffs, long tails and a stand-up collar like the tail of a phoenix. These elements all strengthen the dramatic tension and contrast her image as a god and as a human being. The patterns come from the precious ancient Shu collections in the [Sanxingdui] Museum, including the Han brocade discovered in Mawangdui and the bronzeware discovered in Sanxingdui.
The front of the royal dress is made up of husband-and-wife trees interlocked and sprawling to her sleeves. The two trees are of different genders with their pistillate and staminate flowers, and a pair of phoenixes are embroidered on the sleeves, representing Chang’e and Houyi [and] connoting the idea of husband and wife pairing off wing to wing. The two flowers also send the message about married couples being inseparable.
The pattern on the back of the royal dress represents Chang’e’s nostalgia for the human world. The pistillate and staminate flowers bloom alternately on the sleeves. The patterns on the bottom of the sleeves are inspired by the traditional patterns of bronzeware. The pattern on the back of the costume records the myth of Houyi shooting the sun. The goat head pattern in the middle of the bronzeware patterns symbolizes sacrifice. After Chang’e gains immortality, she feels endless loneliness; she hopes to change back to human and experience reincarnation.”
The Pop Goddess
“The top of the pop look has padded shoulders. When Chang’e appears as a rock star [to welcome Fei Fei to the moon], the lower part of the costume is a huge long dress with a mysterious feeling that conforms to Chang’e’s image as a supreme god. But when she begins dancing, the dress transforms into a skirt with layers. The idea is that the fabric of the costume is certainly not of the earth — it might be a special energy or texture from the moon — and the fabric would flow and change like moonlight according to Chang’e’s movements.
This costume is more in line with a traditional Chinese costume. When she sees Houyi, Chang’e wants to return to her original look that he’s familiar with rather than the superior goddess persona she portrays.”