"Clothes have to be fun; otherwise, who wants to bother?"
Anna Sui, fashion’s bohemian, rock ‘n’ roll goddess, was born and raised in Detroit Michigan to french educated Chinese emigrants. By the ripe old age of four, Sui knew she wanted to be a fashion designer. As a child she accompanied her mother fabric shopping, to then spend hours watching her sew. At first Sui used scraps to make doll clothes and once she had an understanding of how patterns worked started making her own. In 1973, Sui moved to New York City to attend the Parsons School of Design. After two years she left school to work for ‘Charlie’s Girls’ with designer Erica Elias. During her time there she learned how to do everything from swimwear to sportswear to sweaters. After ‘Charlie’s Girls’ closed, Erica Elias’ name helped Sui acquire opportunities with other sportswear designers; Bobbie Brooks, Glenora and Simultanee.
In 1981, Anna Sui attended a trade show, bringing along five pieces. In no time received orders from both Macy’s and Bloomingdales and was later featured in a New York Times advertisement. Sui then started her namesake label, working out of her apartment. For the next ten years she did freelance work for other designers all the while building her own clientele. By 1991, at the urging of her model friends, she was ready to premiere at fashion week. Her first show, complete with her now infamous head-to-toe concepts of crazy styling and accessories to complement her sweet yet hip, vintage yet modern, feminine yet rock ‘n’ roll vibe, was a massive success. Sui didn’t have to wait long to start building her lifestyle brand; signing distribution deals with Isetan and Wella AG to design and create accessories and fragrances respectively.
In 1992, Anna Sui opened her first boutique in NYC and won the CFDA Perry Ellis award for new fashion talent. Years later Sui introduced her line of shoes and with the help of Isetan started opening freestanding boutiques throughout Japan. In 1999 her first of many fragrances launched in conjunction with a cosmetics line and by 2000 she debuted her skincare line. In 2005 Sui began a two year partnership with Victoria’s Secret; they sold her fragrance and cosmetic lines in stores and she designed a line of lingerie for them. 2009 turned out to be a highlight year for Sui, as she was honored with the ‘Classic Icon of Fashion Design” at the China Fashion awards and received the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement award. Throughout the years Anna Sui has participated in numerous collaborations with companies like Samsung for a limited edition mobile phone, the Gossip Girl themed ‘Anna Sui for Target’ collection, Mattel for a limited edition Boho Barbie, Coach, Hush-Puppies and luggage giant Tumi. For most in the industry Anna Sui’s constant exploration for new ideas, makes her a trendsetter or better yet the pioneer of contemporary niche.
When Anna Sui was young, she dreamt of designing clothes for rock royalty like Anita Pallenberg, whom she later befriended and did indeed dress. Some of Sui’s other celeb clientele include but are not limited to Drew Barrymore, Madonna, Sofia Coppola and Nicole Kidman. Some of Anna’s inspirations are: The NY Dolls, Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Uzbekistan, Andy Warhol, vintage textiles and the American West. The first Anna Sui boutique was filled with a vibrant mix of black Victorian furniture, purple walls, Papier Mâché dolly heads and rock-n-roll posters; a model for all her shops. Her iconic make-up packaging and fragrance bottle design have become collector’s items. Sui is such a fan of music (rock, punk and grunge) that her runway soundtrack is one of the most anticipated each season. In fact her music selection for when she designs will become the inspiration for that collection. In 1997 Sui designed mannequins based on model Michele Hick’s measurements with mannequin innovator Ralph Pucci. In 2008 she led the Save the Garment District movement. In 2010 she was name-checked in the SAT exam. In 2011 she accepted the Harvard University leadership in the Arts award.