Hawthorne & Heaney Visits Anna Sui Exhibition

An exciting exhibition focusing on the daring, rock-n-roll  American fashion designer, Anna Sui. Exhibited at the London Fashion and Textile Museum until 1st October 2017. Anna Sui is not your traditional American fashion designer. From Detroit to New York her unique style is forever growing and adapting to the pop culture that reinvents itself for every new generation. She established her label in 1981 and had her first catwalk show in 1991. She has been forever growing her independant vision by not only creating garments but expanding into textiles, accessories, beauty and interiors. The World of Anna Sui features over 100 looks from the designer’s archive and is a beautiful commendation for all she has achieved so far from beginning to end.

“Even if people haven’t heard them for a while, I feel I’m telling stories that never go out of style” – Anna Sui.

The exhibition has a mass variety of archetypes from Mods and Punks, School Girls to Hippies and Surfers. Anna Sui creates a look for a particular woman, in her own words: “one with a sense of fantasy such as a fairy-tale princess but there is also a darker side, you could never tell whether she is a good girl or a bad one.” This is something everyone can relate to as a form of expression. It is also the first time an American designer has been the focus of a retrospective exhibition in the UK.

“But I’m always looking for the unfamiliar perspective on familiar things. That takes research. Which, as I said, is my favourite thing.” – Anna Sui.

One aspects of the exhibition that will capture your attention was the research boards Anna Sui creates for every garment piece she designs. The quote you see above this text is said by the fashion designer herself, how she is always looking for an unfamiliar perspective which is achieved through her research. The boards tell a story, a journey in fact from where the source of inspiration came from and how Anna Sui has adapted that knowledge into her vision and essentially put her own, unique twist upon it in order to achieve the end result. This example on the right is her ‘Floral Stripe Peplum Dress’ part of her Spring 2012 collection. The collection was set out to “evoke the atmosphere of the fashionable Club Sept, frequented by the likes of Jerry Hall and Grace Jones in their early days as models. The collection mixed the glamour of the 1970s with a 1940s’ sensibility, reflecting the style of dress on the dance floor.”

This example showcases Anna Sui’s talent to combine eras, using that inspiration and knowledge from past decades in order to transform it and create a beautifully, modern peplum dress. Therefore if you have an interest in previous decades and an admiration for pop culture then this is the exhibition for you. The photograph below shows the research journey for this particular dress:

The following information was learned during my visit to the exhibition through a CGTN interview shown of Anna Sui opening up about this story. By far the best element of the exhibition as nothing beats hearing information first hand from the woman, herself. The interview is called ‘Anna Sui – Fashion’s true original’:

Anna Sui went to her first Paris fashion show with fashion photographer and friend, Steven Meisel. On the way to the show they stopped at The Ritz to pick up his friend, Madonna who came out of her dressing room and into the car wearing a coat. When they arrived at Paris fashion show, Madonna took her coat off and said to Sui, “Anna, I have a surprise for you.” this resulted in Madonna revealing Anna Sui’s dress that she had on. This gave Anna confidence as out of all the high-end labels Madonna could have worn, she chose hers. When Anna Sui arrived back in New York, 10 years after establishing herself as a fashion designer, she premiered her first catwalk show in 1991. Through Steven Meisel, Anna also became friends with models, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista who helped her get all the models together. Everyone pitched in. Her first show opened up multiple opportunities including international, in particular Japanese companies. All this movement from the simple, kind gesture that Madonna did for Anna therefore Sui believes she will always owe a debt of gratitude to her.

To watch the interview yourself please click on the following URL: https://america.cgtn.com/2016/11/12/anna-sui-fashions-true-original

“My favourite thing was always research. I met all the trim people, the button people, the pleating and embroidery people… I kept coming back to music, too. Music made the fashion more amazing, more accessible.” – Anna Sui.

The exhibition ‘The World of Anna Sui’ showcases a variety of craftsmanship including millinery, gold work, print, embellishment, applique, weave, knit and embroidery techniques which you can see evident in the photographs above. If you have an interest in any of these of design or fashion then you will certainly enjoy your visit to the exhibition. Not only will you see a unique twist put on these traditional techniques but it will open up your mind and inspire you as to how you can use inspiration from your surroundings in your own designs. Anna Sui’s work is narrative as her powerful garment collections simply document her journey and interests through the decades. Her archive clearly shows her fascination with pop culture. You can see from beginning to end, how previous decades have influenced her design, how as a fashion designer she, herself has evolved and grown over time with this particular movement. Her interest in fashion, art, design and music is at the core of each idea, with every collection having its own style and inspiration. The composition of Anna Sui’s archive I personally found very powerful as you were completely surrounded by a wide variety of collections that for me, I just did not know where to start. A true statement of the daring, rock-n-roll designer that Anna Sui is. Her research and collections are the “desire to understand why things happened or what inspired the design, song or artwork. This then leads her onto other topics and ideas that themselves become part of the design process.” I truly would recommend anyone to visit this exhibition as it was a pleasure to witness as there is something to suit everyone’s particular taste and interests.

“Anna Sui’s holistic vision as a designer is about making connections, and everything around the designer is part of the connectivity, and the story.”

Please note that the text written in bold is from the ‘The World of Anna Sui’ exhibition and not my own. For further information regarding the exhibition please follow the URL below: http://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/the-world-of-anna-sui/

Written by Lauren Stewart