Anna Sui’s singularity lies in her ability to weave her own passions into her work. Her creations are intricate pastiches of vintage eras and knowing nods to music and popular culture – from ’60s Portobello to downtown rockers and B-Boys. Her love of fashion began early. Growing up in a sleepy suburb of Detroit, Sui (born 1955) spent her days styling her dolls and collating her ‘genius files’, a source book of magazine clippings that she continues to reference today.
In 1972, she began studying at Parsons School of Design in New York, where she became a regular on the underground punk scene and where she met photographer Steven Meisel, a long-time friend and collaborator. Sui spent the remainder of the ’70s designing for a string of sportswear companies. Then, in 1980, she presented a six-piece collection at the Boutique Show, receiving an immediate order from Macy’s.
Sui made her runway debut proper in 1991; the collection was a critically-acclaimed homage to her heroine, Coco Chanel. And by the early ’90s, her self-consciously maximalist look was helping to pave the way for designers like Marc Jacobs, sparking a revival in the New York fashion scene. In 1993, she won the CFDA Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent. Sui encapsulated the grunge spirit of the times, with Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha – a close friend – appearing in her winter 1995 ‘California Dreaming’ show, and Courtney Love famously adopting Sui’s classic baby-doll dresses.
Nowadays, Sui has stores in New York, LA, Tokyo and Osaka, and has added denim, sportswear, shoes and accessories to her brand. Her kitsch cosmetics and best-selling fragrances, with distinctive rose-embossed packaging, have all helped to establish her as an important designer and shrewd business woman with an eccentric spirit and limitless sense of fun.