New York’s MAD have opened their doors to The World of Anna Sui. The exhibition celebrates the extraordinary and vibrant visions of one of New York’s finest and has travelled across the world from Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills, where the exhibition opened in 2018 to mark the twentieth anniversary of Anna Sui Cosmetics.
A first-generation Chinese-American, Anna Sui entered the intensely creative realm of New York’s underground scene in the 1970s and in the decades since gained a position as one of the city’s most beloved and accomplished designers. After deciding at a mere four years of age that she wanted to become a designer, a young Sui went on to attend the prestigious Parsons The New School for Design in New York, where she would meet the likes of Steven Meisel, her long-term friend and collaborator.
Known for gorgeously garish colour combinations and Victorian-esque and rock and roll inspired touches, Sui is a part of a generation of designers in the nineties, along with Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Tam, who rejected the eighties diktat of power dressing and corporate suits. Sui instead favoured a more relaxed silhouette that reflected and celebrated the values of youth culture. An encyclopaedia of cultural references, her spectacular volume of research into vintage styles and cultural phenomena are undeniably evident in her eclectic designs.
Since her debut show in 1991, Sui has presented 84 collections, remaining at the helm of her brand, and has expanded into accessories, cosmetics and interiors with boutiques operating in the US and Asia, and the brand and its namesake are practically one and the same. Sui’s presence is felt through every aspect, from her designs and runway shows to her boutique in Soho - the display at MAD is no different. Split over two floors within the Midtown art gallery, the exhibition takes you on an intimate journey through Sui's creative universe, the fifth floor exploring her influences and processes, while the fourth highlights the immersive experiences that are her fashion shows.
On entering the MAD lobby, the gallery goer is immediately overcome with a sense of Sui. Having been transformed with Anna Sui brand illustrations by Dean Chooch Landry, the graphics reference Sui's first Soho storefront. Elevators containing parallel Sui-surrealist worlds deliver you to the exhibition space where, amid orange, black, and lavender tones, the wildly imaginative designs of Anna Sui stand strong, rich with references. The thematically-arranged exhibition is quick to highlight how unique Sui's narrative approach to fashion is in the commercial American fashion landscape.
Set against backdrops and music from Sui’s shows and furniture from her home and showroom, the exhibition consists of around 70 to 100 looks from Sui's archive. The display features 13 archetypes that are staples of the Sui style including the famous punk, Victorian, and grunge styles, as well as her surfer, mod, and school girl iterations. Included is a display of invitations to Anna Sui’s shows over the years, each invite reflecting the different themes of each collection or label, and providing visual references for both the development and scope of Sui’s designs throughout her career. A timeline on the upper level details the life of Sui, from her first encounters with fashion at a young age to where the brand is now, and a display of original mood boards and drawings highlight Sui’s ambitious and extensive research into design history, and the decorative arts and pop culture that are infused into her work. Another highlight of the exhibition is the inclusion of Greer Lankton's life size doll of American Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, that first appeared in a Barney's store window before taking up permanent residence in Sui's apartment.
The World of Anna Sui also spotlights the importance of place and collaborators to Sui's success, such as the New York City Garment Centre and the garment district where Sui has been located and produced most of her lines for the past 34 years. Sui's retail space also gets its place in the pantheon. While her original Greene Street boutique has now relocated to a little further south in Soho, the Broome Street jewel is still as evocative of Anna’s signature style as the original. With lavender walls, stained red floor and glossy black victorian chairs with velvet upholstery, Naomi Campbell speaks fondly of the Sui boutique, noting, ‘It was like a clubhouse. Every young actor/rock star kid did time there’.
Originally debuting at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London in 2017, The World of Anna Sui is curated by Dennis Nothdruft, and has been adapted for MAD by Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford with support from Assistant Manager of Curatorial Affairs Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy. The exhibition is supported by Abrams publication 'The World of Anna Sui' by BoF Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks with foreword by Naomi Campbell, and runs until Sunday 23 Feb 2020 at The Museum of Art and Design, 2 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019, USA.