Born and raised in Detroit, educated and discovered in New York, Anna Sui reinvented pop culture fashion with her signature rock-and-roll romantic label in the 1990s and has remained a design icon ever since. Beginning with her premiere catwalk show in 1991, Sui has shaped not only the garments, textiles, accessories, cosmetics, and interiors that comprise her design universe, but also the course of fashion history by popularizing the boutique fashion look. Sui’s unique approach to creating narratives through her work is legendary: a self-taught historian of culture, art, and fashion, she samples music, books, exhibitions, movies, time periods, photography, and art movements in her designs.
Over the years, Sui has explored wide-ranging materials and inspirations, including papier-mâché mannequin heads; linens by Vera; Claire McCardle sportswear; army surplus jackets; Japanese hankies; qipao dresses; wood-soled platforms from Goody Two-Shoes; the style of Jane Holzer, Zandra Rhodes, and Anita Pallenberg; and Minnie Mouse. Her collections are replete with references, processed and creatively reimagined through the filter of Anna Sui.
Unlike other popular American designers, Sui is driven by telling stories head-to-toe about the worlds of cowgirls, grunge girls, hippie chicks, hula girls, Mods, pirate rock stars, Pre-Raphaelite maidens, and surfer nomads. The exhibition gives insights into her process, allowing the viewer to step inside her imagination and watch it unfold.
The World of Anna Sui features approximately one-hundred looks from the designer’s archive, presenting a roll call of twelve archetypes that are staples of the Sui aesthetic. It also spotlights her heroes as a youth and the importance of her collaborators, including the New York City Garment Center.
The first iteration of this exhibition debuted at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, in the summer of 2017.
The World of Anna Sui was curated by Dennis Nothdruft for the Fashion and Textile Museum, London. It was secured for the Museum of Arts and Design by William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator Shannon R. Stratton with the support of Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford.