“It’s overwhelming. This is the first time I’m seeing this,” Anna Sui told FN this week in New York. The designer was walking through the Museum of Arts & Design’s latest exhibition, which features 75 looks from her own archive.
She said, “It’s such an honor. I’m just so happy that all the people I’ve worked with through the years can see this. Like my assistant Thomas, who’s worked with me for 30 years. I can’t wait for my team to see it.”
Taking up two floors, the retrospective begins in 1991 at her debut fashion show going throughout the years up until her spring ’19 collection. For Sui, who was born and raised in Detroit, the exhibition was a trip down memory lane.
“Each thing when I look at it, I can’t believe we accomplished it,” she explained. “Sourcing has changed so much. Some of it is bittersweet because I realize you can’t do that anymore. You can’t find that fabric anymore, or you can’t even make it.”
Inside, the looks are arranged thematically by 13 design archetypes, including Rock Star, Schoolgirl, Punk, Nomad and Surfer, to name a few, which are then mixed with garments, sketches, mood boards, videos of runway presentations, photos of cultural muses and more. Within Surfer, for example, Sui’s latest collaboration with Teva is put on display, which is a brand she’s been wearing for more than 10 years.
She said, “I started wearing them when I was going on vacations and realized I needed comfortable shoes that still looked cool. I remember getting a pair and they came in so handy because they were the perfect water shoe, too. I’ve always had Teva in my closet. I think I bought them on 8th Street when they sold shoes there. They are cool-looking, comfortable and they look modern. There’s a modernism about this. And so many companies are making Teva-esque shoes.”
One theme that continuously made an appearance throughout the retrospective was this idea of androgyny. In the ’90s, Sui said she found inspiration in Kurt Cobain and Smashing Pumpkins, who both wore vintage dresses at the time.
“I always loved playing with gender. I loved glam rock. I loved how rockstars borrowed clothes from their girlfriends and wore ruffle shirts and jewelry. That was always what I loved. I always played with that,” she said. “When you see the guys’ clothes in this exhibition, we used women fabrics, we used even women patterns sometimes. It was what was going on then.”
Sui is still inspired by pop culture, she said, noting her admiration for actress Eva Green and HBO series “Euphoria.”
“The show is amazing. It’s disturbing but whoever is doing the clothes, they’re so good. And the makeup is great,” she said. “And I have the greatest job in the world. Whatever is inspiring me, whatever is making me excited, I can do for the next collection and really delve in and explore it and research it and look at it from every angle. That’s why when you see the collections there’s music, there’s a backdrop. It’s my thought process of what I’m excited about. ”
The World of Anna Sui will be open at The Museum of Arts and Design, in New York City’s Columbus Circle, from Sept. 12 to Feb. 23, 2020.
Click through the gallery to get a sneak peek of the exhibition.