Anna Sui picked an interesting year to explore her identity as a US designer. She describes her current spring/summer offering as inspired by ‘Miss American Pie’ — and she presented it not only to the sounds of The Byrds and The Mamas & the Papas but with models sauntering around a giant papier maché slice of apple pie. Made up of prom-queen A-line dresses, checked prairie aprons, cheerleader skirts and Western leather capelets, this collection is as patriotic as fashion gets.
In the current political climate, patriotism has been transformed into a complicated emotion and in the liberal, international-looking fashion industry, Sui’s outlook feels unusually optimistic and almost dated. Which is undoubtedly her motivation. Because, really, has there ever been a more necessary time to celebrate the exuberant, outward-looking creativity of the US than now?
“For Spring 2017, my inspiration was American Folk Art,” she says. “There is always an underlying spirit of pop-culture Americana behind everything I do — and this year I thought it was important to celebrate that. I wanted to create an eclectic parade of cowboys, cheerleaders, sailors and movie queens strolling down my runway; dressed up in shades of purple, lavender, magenta, maroon, pink, clover, sunshine yellow, and, of course, in red, white and blue.”
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Sui may be a proud American but that doesn’t stop her being influenced by outside sources — London in particular. Growing up in Detroit, she spent all her pocket money buying British music and trying to imitate the way the girlfriends of her idols dressed in their brightly coloured Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes outfits.
This early inspiration is the reason why Sui has decided to hold her first exhibition not in New York or Los Angeles but at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. Called ‘The World of Anna Sui’, it opens this May and is set to be the first-ever retrospective of a US fashion designer in the UK.
Featuring over 100 outfits spanning from pieces worn by Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell in Sui’s first catwalk show in 1999, to her most recent collection, the exhibition will celebrate her diverse aesthetic, wild prints and almost fantastical approach to fashion. “I just celebrated my 20th anniversary in Japan, so that had gotten me to start thinking about my history,” she says. “And I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to celebrate my roots.”
And in the year we may well decide belongs to Sui, the designer is also publishing her first book. With the same name as her upcoming exhibition, it is written by fashion journalist Tim Blanks with a foreword from Naomi Campbell, who describes herself as one of Sui’s greatest fans.
And because the beauty of Sui’s work comes from her ability to give every outfit a little sprinkling of fairy dust, what could be more tempting than a moment of pure escapism in an increasingly complicated world?