Fashion / Style

Anna Sui Finally Gets Her Due With New Museum Exhibit, Pop Culture Moment

Detroit Native Still Embraces the Youth Culture at Age 67

BY // 10.08.19

NEW YORK —  Anna Sui is finally getting her due. For more than 30 years, the Detroit native has influenced fashion through her colorful, often wacky, designs centered around such iconic prototypes as cowgirls, surfers, grunge girls, hula girls, Mods, pirate rock stars, pre-Raphaelite maidens and surfer nomads, incorporating icons ranging from Yves Saint Laurent to Minnie Mouse.

An exhibit covering her eclectic career debuted at the Museum of Arts and Design during New York Fashion Week and will be open to the public through February, 23, 2020. The World of Anna Sui includes two floors of her designs, with signature styles shaped by pop culture and the “romance, youthful exuberance, and rock ‘n’ roll. ”

According to the exhibit, “Sui was one of a generation of fashion designers who remade American style in the 1990s. Together, with Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi, Todd Oldham and Vivienne Tam, she rejected 1980s power dressing, with its corporate suits and big shoulder pads, in favor of a more relaxed silhouette that reflected the values of youth culture.”

The accolades aren’t a valedictory farewell, though, because Sui, now 67, continues to design for a younger generation. She labels her spring 2020 collection, which also debuted during New York Fashion Week,  “Victorianna!,” and said she drew upon her favorite childhood movie, the classic Disney 1960 hit Pollyanna, starring Haley Mills, to project an air of optimism in these troubled times.

“There’s hardly any black, no somber jewel tones or heavy embellishments,” she explains in her program notes. “The  color palette is totally new for me  — filled with dreamy saturated pastels  — buttercream, lemon curd, powder blue, cornflower, pale pistachio, Crème de Menthe, Wedgwood lilac, dusty rose, whipped cream, powder puff  — like the confectionary colors of fancifully frosted cupcakes  — sometimes, punched-up with fluorescent detailing — neon piping, and lace trims, Day-Glo plastic zippers and striped elastic.”

Indeed, the collection is soft and frothy, with a mishmash of patterns, like gingham mixed with florals or a tweed jacket embroidered with rosebuds. The quirky collection includes smoking jackets in a jungle gardenia pattern, robes trimmed in marabou feathers, wisteria-patterned jacquard party dresses worn with neon fishnet T-shirts, satin bed jackets, and lace caftans trimmed with flower-shaped paillettes and shiny gold trim.

The World of Anna Sui Exhibition Opening: at the Museum of Arts and Design
Zandra Rhodes and Anna Sui celebrate the opening of “The World of Anna Sui” at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. (Photo courtesy of BFA by Jenna Bascom and The Museum of Arts and Design)

Sui also got the idea to mimic the work of  Italian fashion illustrator and costume designer Lila De Nobili, who often collaborated with the fabled interior decorator, Renzo Mongiardino, by painting over his heavily wallpapered walls with pattern-upon-pattern.  The results are most evident in a botanical patchwork jacket with frosted beads and tiny embroidery flowers.

Always a master of styling, Sui accentuated the collection with such accessories as cotton eyelet and lace bucket hats, wood lunchboxes covered in rows of velvet ribbon, rosebud-pattern clogs, white lace-trim Teva platforms, pastel flower tiaras, floral glitter anklets, bird wing sunglasses, pearlized leather granny boots, and pastel suede combat boots with Day-Glo soles and laces.

She’s obviously still having a lot of fun, so why stop now?

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - On The Runway Spring 2020