It’s official: Gigi and Bella could have been runway stars in any era. Kaia, too. (Big surprise there.) Some of the other girls, not so much. The Hadid sisters opened Anna Sui’s show — Gigi first, then Bella, done up in looks that riffed on couture while strutting the runway the old-fashioned way: Spin! Stop! Shoulder thrust! Hip thrust! Killer gaze! When some of their colleagues experimented in kind, they looked about as comfortable as if they’d been asked to recite poetry in ancient Sanskrit.
Sui’s opening proved more than witty amusement. It introduced her fall ode to the fashion she somehow became aware of, and obsessed with, during her formative years, “the old Balenciaga shows, the old Seventh-Avenue-in-the-showroom runway shows,” she noted during a preview. Back then, she pored over magazines and became obsessed with illustrators — Anne Marie Barden, “who did the big eyes and thumbprint cheeks;” and early Antonio Lopez.
Various works by them inspired Sui’s color stories — oranges and yellows; blues and greens. As for the purples, they’re signature. From these, Sui created a range of characters, Millennial descendants of Sixties-Seventies-era ladies and librarians; sirens, secretaries and snow bunnies, all in compilations of her trademark intense prints and fantastically frenetic fabric mixes. The pattern du jour: an intricately drawn owl and pussycat, commissioned to recall the floral-frenzy Eve Cigarettes packaging, circa 1970.
There was a lot going on, all fast and furious, and you left smiling. All great. But Sui’s overall aesthetic is so distinct, its visual euphoria so specific, that she doesn’t get sufficient credit for being a designer of range. Deconstruct the pilings and Sui makes some terrific clothes — parkas, peacoats, dresses, sweaters, and yes, even sexy numbers suitable for the aforementioned siren. As for her thematic inclinations, we know Sui loves a flower-power vibe. But here, she dabbled with so much more, all delightful. How much fun would it be to see her take one unexpected element and really run with it, such as that show-opening midcentury couture moment? Haute Anna. One can hope.