With a retrospective of Anna Sui’s work about to open at New York’s Museum of Art and Design, members of her creative and in-house family reminisce about how it all started.
Thomas Miller: When I started working with Anna 30 years ago, we were working in her apartment on 7th Avenue and 16th Street. So even Anna was getting on her hands and knees and taping up boxes. We were all doing everything.
Garren: Back in [the early] days, all the supermodels had haircuts, and they were all special. Those girls really modeled and they had fun on the runway. Then we went through the period where everyone clumped down the runway. And then it just got very soldier like, you know, so it’s showing the clothes. So it’s been through a lot of transitions, so through all the times, in and out, Anna’s really stayed true to her beliefs and her thing. That’s what’s great about it. It’s definitely Anna Sui. It’s not trying to find someone else. It’s perfectly there.
Akiko Mamitsuka: A friend of mine was working with Anna before me… And then she was calling me, they said, “Anna needs help.” And I just started — 31 years ago.
Karen Erickson: Back [when we started], the fashion world was pretty small. Everybody sort of knew everybody. Anna had a collection, I had a collection. She was working for Steven Meisel, the photographer. He was shooting Italian Vogue, and I was helping her with things for her shoot, because I also had a showroom, and I was a designer. The three of us, Anna, Eric, and I, we all come from Detroit. So, we had that other connection.
Eric Erickson: Well, I met when we were approached to work with her on her first show, which was really interesting. Because she did the normal thing, mood boards on the walls, I’d never before seen four mood boards that were walls-size each. I mean, Anna really gets a lot of information together. She gets photos, pictures, drawings, all of her people, the authors that inspire her, that’s going into the clothing. All the fabrics hanging from the wall, in shreds. That’s where she brings us in. Anna was into videoing the first show. I’m sure she’s happy about that.
James Coviello: So before Anna started doing shows, she did some styling jobs on the side. And one of the jobs she had was with Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue. And it was a cover story with Linda Evangelista. And Anna asked Karen Erickson if she knew anybody who could make a hat for the story. And Karen said, “Yes, I actually know somebody. His name is James. He would be perfect.” So I met Anna. I made the hat. It was a white patent leather hat. It was a Courrèges story. And Anna loved it. They shot it. It made the cover. It was very exciting. I was a young kid in those days. Very, very thrilling. And then about a year later, Anna had her first runway show, and when she was thinking about hats, she called me.
Heidi Poon: I was interviewing for jobs after I graduated from college. I met Anna. She interviewed me. She actually hired me right away, and I said yes. This is my only job, after college, for 31 years.
Bill Mullen: I was working for a woman named Jade Hobson. I was her assistant at Revlon and she was going to Mirabella and Paul Cavaco said, “You have to meet Anna Sui.” And I, as an assistant, I went. Anna was a young designer [and] he had this great column in Details Magazine called Spree with Sui, where she went shopping. We’ve been friends since the end of 1988…I did not work on the first show. Details Magazine, technically, was my job, but I was backstage. I can remember Anna and Steven talking about should they tango down the runway. I remember them choosing the songs.