To coincide with the publication of the Anna Sui book, today THE LOOK publishes an exclusive interview with the New York designer.
Sui has also granted us access to these gems from deep in her archive: sketches which resulted in early 80s stagewear for Siouxsie Sioux.
Sui developed her fascination for the dynamics of music and style early.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit dreaming about the British invasion, The Beatles and The Stones,” she says.
“My first concert was MC5 and The Stooges in a park, then along came Glam Rock and I was smitten. It wasn’t just the band that dressed up, but the audience too! Alice Cooper was my favourite. Todd Haynes captured that excitement at the beginning of Velvet Goldmine.”
//Todd Haynes captures the excitement at 4.20.//
Sui’s family visited New York every summer. One year they took in the Biba boutique in Bergdorf Goodman. “I was astounded by the colour selection of cosmetics, boots, t-shirts and beautiful clothes; I’d never seen colours like that: Dusty teal, plum, prune, rose…
“I bought a teal t-shirt with billowy sleeves – like the blouse I had seen on Jean Shrimpton when she came to Detroit for a Yardley cosmetics appearance – and teal eye shadow.”
Sui graduated via the NYC punk scene to create a small collection “for rock stars as well people that went to rock concerts”, selling through department stores and Patricia Field’s boutique on 8th Street.
In the early 80s Sui brought her “Rock and Roll Cowboy” range to London, when Siouxsie acquired the fringe jacket and skirt with faux-cowhide yoke.
While in London Sui caught Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Pirates collection. “I went to the launch party and the next day bought an entire outfit from Worlds End,” she recalls. “At this time Gene Krell had a clothing boutique in the back of a record store, also on 8th, at MacDougal. Gene bought my collection, as did Trash & Vaudeville.”
Sui’s customers have run the rock & roll gamut, and she retains a fan’s enthusiasm for the artefacts of rock fashion, as regular readers will know from her recent contribution to this site.
As an addendum to that, here is a charming card for Betsy Bunky & Nini from Sui’s personal collection:
Among Sui’s most prized possessions is a complete run of the Hearst Corporation’s short-lived late 60s pop culture magazine Eye. “It covered fashion, music and film with a poster most issues,” she says.
//Eye magazine, clockwise from top left: Aug 68; Sept 68; Oct 68; March 69.//
“This was a very different time when information traveled in a much slower way. Any glimpse of what was going on in London or a story about a rock star was precious and went a long way in your imagination.”
Sui also collects vintage Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. “I missed it the first time around so I’m making up for it now. I like their earlier pieces and wear them a lot. I’ve also collected the subsequent collections for various retailers recently and Zandra has made me a dress in my favorite feather print.”
It is this enthusiam for the keynotes of fashion history which propels Sui into making the smart choices, especially when it comes to fabric selection, palette control and photographic collaboration, from her good friend Steven Meisel to the fantastic(al) Sarah Moon.
Sui’s post-modern appeal is outlined by Jack White (whose wife Karen Elson is a favourite model of the designer’s) in his foreword to Sui’s fully illustrated 288-page tome (which is launched in the UK next week).
“It’s not retro or emulation or re-creation or even false modernity,” White writes of Sui’s aesthetic. “It is a beauty that can exist in any era – past, present or future – a beauty that does not fall prey to the wrath of novelty.”
Buy your copy of Anna Sui’s new book here.