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Culture

Anna Sui retrospective opens in London

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

30 May 2017

The Fashion and Textile Museum in London has opened a retrospective on Anna Sui, marking the first time a living American fashion designer has been the focus of a retrospective in the UK.

‘The World of Anna Sui’ features more than 120 mannequins dressed in designs by New York-based designer Sui exploring the “glamorous and eclectic world’s of one of America’s most accomplished designers” said the museum.

The exhibition is grouped into Sui’s archetypes ranging from the rock star and the schoolgirl, to punks, nomads, and surfers, all motifs that are featured in her work. Designs on display include styles such as the exuberant Carnaby Street, schoolgirl outfits worn by supermodels Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell in her first runway show in 1991, to the cowboys and cheerleaders modelled by Gigi and Bella Hadid during the recent spring/summer 2017 Americana-themed collection.

Dennis Nothdruft, curator of ‘The World of Anna Sui’ said: “Anna Sui helped define the look of Generation X. As young creatives rediscover and reference the 1990s, it is time to explore the original designs in a critical context.

“Through ‘The World of Anna Sui’, we hope to highlight a fresh cultural perspective on the so-called ‘slacker’ generation. The exhibition will showcase a fashion designer who, contrary to the stereotype, is not only highly creative and entrepreneurial but also playful and positive.”

The influence of music is seen throughout from the designer’s continuing love of Bohemian chic to her iconic 1994 grunge collections including the infamous organza baby-doll dresses. Anna Sui says of this time, “It was my moment. If grunge music was an alternative to stadium rock, the kind of clothes I designed were my alternative to power dressing.”

Fashion and Textile Museum opens Anna Sui retrospective

As well as showcasing the designer’s most iconic designs including an iconic babydoll dress with rose print, styled with a hat, ripped fishnets and multiple chokers, the exhibition also explores her design processes through moodboards, photographs, sketches, and runway shots. There is also a section documenting her long-term creative collaborations with models such as Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell, as well as with make-up artist Pat McGrath, jeweller Erickson Beamon and knitwear designer and milliner James Coviello.

Other rooms in the exhibition show a recreation of the designer’s New York shop to give a sense of Sui’s distinctive interiors and design style, as the shop features red stained floors, tiffany lamps, purple walls, ornate black mirrors, black lacquered furniture and Aubrey Beardsley prints that represents her punky thrift-store design aesthetic.

There’s also a section dedicated to her inspirations while she was growing up in Detroit, which range from Ossie Clark to William Morris, as well as one dedicated to her life in the Big Apple, as Sui moved to New York to study fashion at the The New School’s Parsons School of Design and opened her first store there in 1991. While another focuses on her use of layering and mixing of patterns, texture and colours, including graphic textiles created with Ascher Studio, Zandra Rhodes, Jeffrey Fulvimari and Barbara Hulanicki.

Celia Joicey, head of the Fashion and Textile Museum, added: “Anna Sui is one of the most important and influential American designers of the past twenty-five years. We are delighted to be the first museum in the UK to offer a US fashion designer a retrospective exhibition.

“Sui is an inspirational woman whose designs embrace the history of American pop culture and popular art movements, and thereby offer a fascinating way to explore national identity through fashion and textiles.”

The World of Anna Sui is at London’s Fashion and Textile museum until October 1, 2017.

Images: courtesy of the Fashion and Textile Museum