MAD to stage retrospective of fashion designer Anna Sui

Opening shot from Spring 2012. Photograph by Thomas Lau. Courtesy of Anna Sui

NEW YORK – The Museum of Arts and Design will present a major retrospective of the iconic American fashion designer Anna Sui from Sept. 12 through Feb. 23. Opening during New York Fashion Week, the exhibition features 75 looks from the designer’s archive – from the groundbreaking inaugural fashion show of 1991 to her Spring 2019 collection – and illuminates Sui’s creative process and influences that contribute to her signature aesthetic sensibility.

“Born in Detroit, Anna Sui is a fascinating American design success story,” said Chris Scoates, MAD’s director. “Season after season, Sui translates popular culture and artisanal making into collections that pulse with excitement, reflect and expand on the creative spirit of the times, and move the needle for what fashion can and should be for a diverse, global market. We are extremely excited to welcome our visitors for an unforgettable immersive experience of Anna’s design universe.”

Sui is one of New York City’s most beloved and accomplished fashion designers, known for creating contemporary original clothing inspired by in-depth research into vintage styles, cultural arcana, art history, graphic design, European and Asian decorative arts, film, and more. Sui joined New York’s creative cultural underground at a rich time in the 1970s, forging important, lasting relationships in the worlds of fashion, photography, art, music and design. Additionally, she is one of the original voices of the Save the Garment Center movement.

Arranged thematically, “The World of Anna Sui” is driven by Sui’s 13 design archetypes – Rock Star, Schoolgirl, Punk, Nomad and Surfer, to name a few – that are infused with seemingly incongruent influences, including French interior designer and antiques dealer Madeleine Castaing, the London boutique Biba, pirates, pre-Raphaelite maidens, Yves Saint Laurent and Minnie Mouse. The garments, sketches, mood boards, videos of runway presentations and cultural ephemera on view trace Sui’s eclectic career and illuminate her creative process.

“Since 1991, Anna has been a major influence in fashion, bringing the boutique look to a wider audience and expanding it to accessories, perfumes and cosmetics,” said Barbara Paris Gifford, assistant curator at MAD. “A prolific storyteller, Anna weaves together popular and little-known visual references every season creating singular looks that are unmistakably Anna. Throughout the exhibition, you see evidence of her vast knowledge of music, movies, interior design, books, time periods, graphic design, art movements, fashion and photography.”

Starting in the museum’s lobby, a to-scale installation of Dean “Chooch” Landry’s illustration of the original Anna Sui flagship store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood invites visitors into the world of Anna Sui. In the galleries, visitors will encounter the milieu of Sui’s archetypes, experience runway fashion shows, and learn about the behind-the-scenes development of the accessories and accoutrement that complete Anna Sui fashion shows.

The first section of the exhibition focuses on Sui’s inspirations, presenting biographical information of the designer along with ephemera supporting her passion and enthusiasm early in life for clothing, music, history and design. On view will be fashions worn by Sui’s personal style icons Anita Pallenbergand Jane Holzer, as well as favorite inspirational clothing designed by Zandra Rhodes, Norma Kamali and Betsey Johnson. The famous Diana Vreeland sculpture by Greer Lankton from Sui’s apartment in the 1990s, now part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also will be on view.

Mood boards from Anna Sui’s Fall 2019 “Poptimistic” collection, direct from the designer’s studio, will illustrate Sui’s creative process. More than 500 pieces, including inspiration images of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom designed by Gary Grimshaw and Carl Lundgren, Antonio Lopez illustrations for the New York Times’ “Fashion of the Times,” “The Sun” from David Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot Deck, David Weidman’s Fractured Fairytale silkscreens of sunflowers and butterflies, and textile swatches, will give visitors an insider’s view of how each of Sui’s collections is developed.

Hallmark outfits from Anna Sui collections also will be represented in the exhibition, from the “Backless Chaps” worn by Naomi Campbell in the Fall 1992 runway show to the “Silver Peruvian Ensemble” from Spring 1994 to one of the iconic “Babydoll Dresses” worn by Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. All looks featured will be shown in context with the original backdrops from Oliphant Studio used in Sui’s arresting fashion shows.

The creation and decoration of spaces and environments are integral to Sui’s signature style. Similar to her runway shows, these multi-layered and associative spaces – boutique, home, and studio – are indicative of Sui’s holistic view of design. Visitors will experience environments with furnishings and décor from the designer’s personal collection throughout the exhibition.