New York fashion designer Anna Sui is one of America’s true visionaries. Her rock’n roll meets art nouveau aesthetic is unlike any other. Her fashion career started in grade seven when she refused to wear the same outfit twice for a full year crafting her own outfits at home from Vogue patterns. And led to a CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award. 2013 marks the 15th anniversary of Sui’s beauty line and to celebrate she’s re-imagining the counters, the packaging and the formulations. BEAUTY the guide spoke with her recently about her remarkable career.
Anna Sui: In her own words
The Pre-Raphaelite retrospective at London’s Tate Museum was the main inspiration for my spring 2014 collection. I’ve always been inspired by these Victorian England painters and poets – they really are my favourite painters.
I rely on my four inspiration boards in my office when designing a collection. Each board represents a different delivery during a season and I arrange them by colour. I’ll pin up photos and fabric swatches and really focus on each colour story. Designing never gets easier over the years. It really is an uneven playing field today. There are fewer companies to produce the fabrics or treatments I envision. And sometimes a fabric that looks great as a swatch doesn’t look so good as an outfit. I wait until a fabric really speaks to me. For example, I didn’t add the men’s wear pieces until about a week ago when I found a really amazing men’s wear fabric. This is how every collection evolves. It comes together at the last moment.
The most-requested item in my beauty line over the past 15 years is the Ring Rouge, a gloss ring. I’m so glad that we’ve brought it back with a new 3-D pop-up butterfly on the box.
We have a Montreal fan who often knows about new beauty products launching before I do. (laughs) Her name is Marie-Eve and she is constantly monitoring our Japanese website and reporting back. She has quite a following in Canada.
I’m proud of our new lipstick design. New technology has allowed us to place a rose on the end of the case. I like to take it out at dinner. I call it a ‘show off’ piece.
My two ultimate style icons are Wallis Simpson and Mini Mouse. I’m not kidding. I hope one day to find a way to do a collection with both of them.
I was once riding in a cab passing Bergdorf Goodman in New York when I yelled at the driver to stop and I jumped out. The clothes in the store windows were so incredibly beautiful, I had to see whose they were. When I got up close, I saw that these were from Wallis Simpson’s wardrobe that were going up for auction at Sotheby’s. The clothes were exquisite – sari pattern dresses in orange and gold. She was always very, very current in her dressing while she was out socially. If I could dress her today, I would invite her into my studio and put her in one of our caftans with the metallic fabrics. I’d have to make some longer pants for her as the hot pants would be too short. But I could see her loving the sequins and silk fabrics.
I think the movie character whom best illustrates the Anna Sui woman is Auntie Mame. Each summer, I take my nieces and nephews traveling around the world. This past summer, I took seven of us on Safari to Tanzania. I was a little worried that they wouldn’t want to go this year as two of my nephews just graduated from college and have girlfriends. But at Christmas last year they asked me where we were going this year. I was so happy. The trip was beyond my dreams. We saw hundreds of animals around the watering holes: zebras, wildebeest, lions, vultures, hyenas, and a very rare rhino and cheetah. It was incredible.
The highlight of my career so far is definitely receiving the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award. I’m so busy designing collection after collection that I don’t have the time to sit back and reflect on all that has happened. It was very special to look back in the archives at my favourite outfits and receive such recognition.
My real passion is travel. I just did a very quick trip to South Asia where I spent a day and a half in Jakarta and two days in Singapore. It’s such a mix of exotic Chinese and Indonesian culture. In Jakarta, I discovered the most incredible flea market with exquisite beaded sandals, pink & turquoise sarongs and beautiful porcelains. I wish had another full day just to explore this market.
When it comes to creating the makeup for a runway show, I have an idea of what I’m looking for. There is always a bit of rock star to the look. And I took inspiration from a famous Carnaby, London boutique called Granny Takes A Trip. I’ll bring a model in and dress her in the clothes. Then Pat McGrath and I will work on the look. I knew for spring I wanted some flush to the face and terracotta around the eye. When we were finished, we knew we needed a pop of colour for the runway. I remembered seeing this amazing image at the recent David Bowie exhibit of the singer wearing a bright blue jacket with his red hair. I said to Pat, “That’s the colour we need.”
I’m particularly proud of my Minnie Mouse collection for holiday. New technology has allowed us to imprint the shape of Minnie on the top of the lipstick. But this is an Art Nouveau and Rock n’ Roll version of Minnie. I just wish it wasn’t limited edition. I wish it was permanent in our collection.
I recently moved into a new apartment and decided to make everything in it black and white. The only colour is my clothing. I love black and white Art Nouveau wallpaper so I sourced some from England. All the fabrics are black and white. This was the inspiration for my new cosmetic counter design. I felt it was time for a change.