Come September, there will be two Anna Sui shows in New York. As always, the designer will present her runway collection as part of New York Fashion Week. And on Sept. 12, the exhibit “The World of Anna Sui” will open at the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle, to run through Feb. 23, 2020.
The installation will mark the third iteration for the show, first seen at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, where it was curated by Dennis Nothdruft. Last year, a more tightly focused version was installed in Tokyo at Roppongi Hills.
Not surprisingly, Sui is delighted to bring the show to New York. “It means so much to have this show in New York, my home,” she said on Friday, noting that after several months of discussion, the deal had just been finalized.
Barbara Paris Gifford, assistant curator at MAD, was involved in securing the show. She called Sui “a female entrepreneur in control of her own universe.” Sui, Paris Gifford said via e-mail, “never succumbed to the pressures of joining the corporate world — a rebellious move also embraced in her designs.…Sui’s fashions collapse all-time periods and cultural movements. She is a storyteller — exploring through her collections the world of cowgirls, grunge girls, hippie chicks, hula girls, pirate rock stars and more.”
Though her business is largely international, Sui is a longtime New Yorker (by way of Detroit, where she was raised), and spent her formative fashion years in Manhattan at a time when the city pulsed with youth-centric creative stimulation. As in London, the exhibit will feature about 100 mannequins dressed in looks from Sui’s whimsical fashion range — an idiosyncratic cocktail of, among other elements, hippie, rock, Victorian, goth, always with an optimistic core — and including some of the visually rich and eccentric accoutrements with which she surrounds herself for immersive inspiration. Case in point: the papier-mâché mannequin heads that have become familiar faces to regular visitors to her studio, like fashion-obsessed old friends. The exhibit will also highlight the breadth of the designer’s brand, including beauty and fragrance.
Yet the installation won’t seek to replicate the London version. There, a section focused on the British designers whose work Sui found compelling and inspirational: Ossie Clark, Zandra Rhodes, Biba, and the Scottish designer Bill Gibb. “My New York influences are very different,” the designer said, citing Betsey Johnson and Norma Kamali as her primary American fashion influences and, for their style and lifestyle, Jane Holzer and Anita Pallenberg. “The whole rock element, [Pallenberg] is the one who inspired it,” Sui said. Another fashion goddess will get some love as well — Diana Vreeland. For a time, Sui owned Greer Lankton’s sculpture/life-size mannequin of Vreeland (it once graced a Barneys New York window), and she ultimately donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met is lending it back.
There will also be a “family” tribute — not the Detroit set (though Sui adores that one as well), but her runway show family. In a remarkable example of mutual devotion and long-term creative coalescence, since her first show in 1991, Sui has worked consistently with a tight group of collaborators: Garren for hair; for makeup, first François Nars and for many years now, Pat McGrath; James Coviello for knits; Erickson Beamon for jewelry, and Frédéric Sanchez for music.
“All of those people will be included,” Sui said. “I think it’s unique in that there’s been one family throughout my career. I want to celebrate that — it’s part of my whole story.”
She also hopes that highlighting the essential concept of collaboration will be beneficial to aspiring designers. “I especially want students to understand,” she said. “You can’t do it without a team.”