From as young as I can remember Anna Sui has been one of my biggest inspirations in the fashion industry. I remember spending my teenage years daydreaming over her captivating designs in Teen Vogue and ELLE Girl and she has been one of my biggest influences for Beauxoxo.
It was a dream come true to literally enter into ‘The World of Anna Sui’ at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London just a few weeks ago and something I’m so excited to share with you all. Even though I have visited many Anna Sui stores in New York and in Japan, it was just so special to see this historical timeline of Anna’s work.
From Detroit to New York, Anna Sui has dominated the fashion world with her signature youthful, glamorous, bohemian take on fashion that works for every generation. Since her first catwalk show in 1991, Sui has shaped not only the garments, textiles, accessories, beauty and interiors which comprise her design universe, but also the course of fashion history. In the, ‘The World of Anna Sui’ exhibition, we are treated to over 100 looks from Anna Sui’s archive, that comprises all the different archetypes from Surfers and School Girls to Hippies, Victoriana, Pin Up, Mods and Punks as well as her iconic beauty collections. Interestingly, this is not only the first time Anna Sui’s work has been shown in the UK, but it’s also the first time an American designer has been the focus of a retrospective exhibition in the UK.
In a fashion world where the links of Chanel, Dior, Gucci etc dominate it’s easy to forget just how influential Anna Sui is. This is partly because of her background in the fashion industry where Sui started out as a stylist. In 1992 she launched her first boutique in New York but before that she studied at Parsons but she didn’t complete the course. After this, Sui was hired by a small label called ‘Charlie’s Girls’ in her second year as a junior designer. This then led Sui to create designs for a number of USA based brands but she eventually made her big break for the late Franca Sozzani who recognised her eye for design and gave her lots of styling opportunities. It was through this that Sui became friends Marc Jacobs and Steven Meisel who introduced her to the supermodels that truly launched her name.
The 90s is the decade that some would say marks the age of the supermodel, and there Sui was casting the likes of Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista to walk in her shows. And today her bookings are just as influential where her latest 2017 shows have seen the Hadid sisters and Jamie Bochert strutting down the runway in her timeless, bohemian designs. The latter names are just a few of the superstars that have worn her gorgeous collections and a photo wall as you enter the exhibition has photos of Kate Moss to name but a few.
Meandering from the photo wall through the gorgeous intrinsic and on-brand black archway you enter one of the most magical rooms I have ever seen full of some of Anna Sui’s most influential collections. What struck me the most about seeing each varying stand in front of me is how easy it is to spot an Anna Sui design. This is one of many reasons why Sui has stood the test of time.
Each section is split into what Sui calls the “Anna’s Archetypes” with themes that include Fairytale, Nomad, Victorian, Mod, Punk, Grunge, Androgyny, Americana, Surfer and Schoolgirl. Each collection has been arranged onto red rising podiums, in a room that mirrors the aesthetic of Sui’s first Big Apple boutique with attention to detail reflected in the floor the red floor, the purple walls and the black lacquered furniture.
As a huge fan of Anna Sui some of the pieces were so familiar to me, after seeing them in my favourite magazines or sashaying down the runaway, and thus I felt quite personally attached to them! It was just so special to see all the different elements of her design and thoughts for over 30 years. My favourite style of Sui’s work is her Victoriana and bohemian styles but I also adore to see her playful grunge and nomad styles fused into her classic styling.
Anna Sui Beauty
Now come on my 90s and 00s kids reading this, growing up who didn’t swoon over the Anna Sui beauty and fragrance range? Growing up Sui Love and Dolly Girl were my signature fragrances and I was head over heels in love with the packaging as much as I was in love with the scent. In fact, I do believe Sui Love was my first fragrance ever, and I’m so sad it’s no longer around.
But fast forward to 2017 and the Anna Sui cosmetic range dominates just as much as it did in the late 90s and early 00s. It was so heavenly to shop her cosmetics in person in Japan but for my UK readers Beauty Bay now stock a huge range of her beauty products.
Anna Sui’s incredibly ornate and fanciful packaging is so important to her overall branding and it was so lovely to have this part of her empire featured so well in a glass cabinet that made her pieces stand out even more.
Anna Sui Inspirations and Workings
Upstairs in the ‘World of Anna Sui’ collection was an area full of the artists and designers Sui has collaborated with throughout the years. As with her incredible network of models, it’s also so inspiring to see the make-up artists and designers she has worked with, such as Pat McGrath and Francois Nars, jewellery designer Erickson Beamon and milliner-turned-designer James Coviello.
Besides the collaborations with Sui’s fashion industry friends was a section of the exhibition that outlined the creative process that goes into an Anna Sui collection. As a designer myself this had a huge impact on me and I really want to take this level of detail into the mind to anyone who happens to buy one of my creations. Because sometimes all it takes is a piece of a music, a swatch of fabric or a memory of a trip that is the seed of something so magical.
The final room of the exhibition was a video projected onto the white walls of Anna Sui herself talking about her story into the industry and her defining moments. Dotted all around the white walls were also posters, show invitations and an overall homage to her design that is so synonymous with her overall branding.