For fun, when they attended Parsons School of Design together in the
mid-70’s, Anna Sui and Steven Meisel would encamp with a suitcase of
vintage clothes to Playland in Times Square. “We used to dress up all
the time,” Ms. Sui remembered on March 3 as she looked into the
fevered eyes of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s kaleidoscopically romantic
Venus Verticordia at the Dahesh Museum on Fifth Avenue.
“It was our favorite thing to do. it was sort of how Steven started
taking photographs,” she said. The fashion designer and the
photographer would style themselves and their friends in elaborate
ensembles, then pose in the photo booths. On other occasions, they would
dress up at Ms. Sui’s apartment, where Mr. Meisel had more time to
Those were the good old days before Ms. Sui and Mr. Meisel became busy
fashion tycoons. Later this month, Anna Sui will launch her first cosmetics
and fragrance lines at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then at Nordstrom, Sephora,
her shops here and in Los Angeles and Harvey Nichols in London, as well as
other stores throughout Europe. The products made their debut in Japan in
September and were, Ms. Sui happily reported, the No. 1-selling new item at
Isetan, the Tokyo department store.
The fashion designer stopped in front of Albert Joseph Moore’s
intensely orange Midsummer , a painting of two maidens fanning a
third woman. “The Victorians loved to dress up and have themselves
painted in ancient situations,” said Ms. Sui. “What I like about
these paintings is their quality of transporting their subjects to a time
more romantic and promising. People accuse me of that,” Ms. Sui
Her most recent collection, shown in New York on Feb. 17, celebrated the
folk singers of the 1960’s. Models such as Naomi Campbell and Kirsty
Hume, as well as a few guys wearing Anna Sui men’s wear, rocked down
the runway while Murray Lerner’s film Festival , about the
Newport Folk Festival, played on a large-screen backdrop. Tweed dresses,
black-and-white wool outfits with lace, slip and smock dresses, ponchos and
ribbon-laced suedes, among other items, drew raves.
“I’m always trying to evoke an emotion,” Ms. Sui
explained. “I wish people had that innocence now and sense of hope
that something new was going to happen. People are so jaded. We need to
have that kind of optimism. But I’m not creating something to wear in
1963. Maybe my shows confuse people. Take away the styling tricks and you
see I’m creating something for today’s life style out of fabrics
developed today from the newest technologies.”
Anna Sui wore fashionable black. Black boots, a black-and-white
embroidered pashmina shawl she’d fashioned into a skirt, a cashmere
twinset from Loro Piano, and a techno-fabric peacoat designed by Martine
Sitbon, a friend. “Some of my best friends are designers,” she
said, dropping the names of Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Tam and Ms. Sitbon.
After the Dahesh Museum, Anna Sui’s next stop was Gucci at 685
Fifth Avenue to collect the latest pair of black slingback pumps decorated
with peacock feathers (about $380). “Hope I wear them. I have so many
shoes,” said Ms. Sui, shaking her head.
She was born in Dearborn Heights, Mich., the middle child of Chinese
immigrants. Her father is a structural engineer, her mother a homemaker who
studied painting in Paris. She has two brothers. Her family regularly
attends her fashion shows. As a child, her passion for fashion was first
observed when she would cross-dress favorite toy soldiers in tissue-paper
frocks to attend her version of the Academy Awards. As a teenager, she made
her own clothes and began her elaborate fashion archive with favorite pages
and ads from old Vogue s and Harper’s Bazaar s. She still
Ms. Sui left Parsons after two years to work as a stylist for Steven
Meisel and designed for a series of Seventh Avenue fashion companies. She
started her own business in 1980. In 1994, when international interest in
New York fashion began to bloom, Ms. Sui organized her first runway show.
She opened a boutique at 113 Greene Street the following year. The
1990’s were her decade.
“I was never about the status stuff in the 1980’s or how much
you could put on your back,” she said. “I’ve really come to
believe that you can dream anything and achieve it.”
Mission accomplished at Gucci, Ms. Sui waded upstream on Fifth Avenue.
“This business and now the cosmetics line and fragrance is what
I’ve dreamed about since I was 4.” Her goals for the new business
venture? “I have a certain fashion sense and spirit which I project.
Maybe not everyone can relate to it in the clothing, but they can capture
it in lipstick, a powder, the fragrance.” Ms. Sui said she also hoped
adding a fragrance and cosmetic line to her brand would help generate
bigger business in stores in the American heartland. “I’m very
well represented in New York and California, but not so well in middle
Ms. Sui’s next stop was F.A.O. Schwarz at 767 Fifth Avenue to buy a
present for one of her nieces. En route, she paused in front of the windows
at Tiffany & Company. Taxis and buses screamed and hollered. The artist
Brice Marden, collar raised against the wind, crossed 57th Street.
“This is how I do things in love!” a young woman sobbed into her
cellular. Ms. Sui ducked when a tourist, with a Metropolitan Museum of Art
poster stuck like an arrow in his backpack, suddenly turned and walked
backward so as not to miss a single sight.
In between runway shows and product launches, Ms. Sui is moving from her
apartment in Chelsea to new digs she is decorating in Greenwich Village.
She has been reading as much as she can about the late decorator Rose
Cumming for inspiration. Cumming favored huge hats and fancied shades of
mauve. For entertainment, Ms. Sui said she might watch a video of The
Looking Glass War , which stars one of her favorite new obsessions from
the 1960’s, the actor Christopher Jones. She surveyed the
anything-goes fashion scene on 57th Street.
“What excites me about fashion today is the fact that there are
choices,” said Ms. Sui. “You don’t have to dress in any
cookie-cutter way. The biggest change in fashion this decade is comfort. I
don’t think we’ll ever return to the formality of the
She paused and questioned her last statement. “I have mixed
feelings about that,” said Ms. Sui. “The greatest thing about
fashion is that it changes all the time. And the saddest thing about it is
it changes all the time.”
Billy’s List: Quiz time!
1. Who is Joe Satake?
a. The Elizabeth Arden makeup artist who’s doing Monica
Lewinsky’s television appearances, including the Barbara Walters
b. An avenging sommelier and fictional hero of a popular Japanese cartoon.
c. The former associate of Peter Marino hired to decorate Ira
Rennert’s pile in Sagaponack, L.I.
2. Which recent Milan collection was Suzy Menkes describing in the
International Herald Tribune on March 3 when she wrote, “It
also showcased some of the most hideous and deforming footwear in the long
annals of female suffering”?
3. Ruffo Research is:
a. Candace Bushnell’s new book, an updated version of the popular
1960’s novel The Harrad Experiment .
b. the design team of Veronique Branquinho and Raf Simmons.
c. the trendy Upper East Side medical clinic dispensing various growth and
rejuvenating hormones, charging $50,000 for initial consultation and with a
six-month waiting list.
Answers: (1) b; (2); c; (3) b.