Anna Sui on her new limited-edition vacation tote
We know Anna sui as one of the leading fashion designers who made their mark in the 1990s; a time of grunge music, baby doll dresses and plaid. During her 30-plus-year career, she is known to dress everyone from Madonna to Dua Lipa, and is famous for creating a romantic aesthetic around rock star chic.
As Sui once said, “Every collection that I work on, I always think, is it cool enough to wear to a gig? “
His arty and romantic aesthetic is now on display in a traveling retrospective, titled Anna Sui’s world, which is currently on view at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, which runs until next spring. She also recently published a New Limited Edition Holiday Tote with St-Germain, which wraps a flowery punch around a bottle of the famous French liqueur brand (or just use it to carry a bottle of your choice).
Sui talks from her New York studio about the growth of her fashion empire, her favorite New York neighborhood, and one of her favorite times to dress for celebrities.
Tell us about your new holiday bag, how did it come about?
Anna Sui: We started making bigger jewelry in my last collection, then we made a bigger stand that initially had to put water on it. It was sitting on my desk. We thought, wouldn’t it be so glamorous if you could carry alcohol or a gift in it? when we established this collaboration with st-germain, they have such a beautiful bottle that we designed the tote bag to fit the bottle. People still carry bottles these days. Why not show it a little?
What trends do you see with winter coats this year?
Fleece. But I treated the fleece like a luxury fabric and I embellished it with contrasting linings. I have been printing on it for several seasons. It’s light but warm. It is easy to layer with a Sherpa lining. this is the jacket and coat of choice at the moment.
How has your retrospective exhibition changed how people perceive you?
It recently opened in the Mint Museum in North Carolina. It has been such an honor. In all these years that we have been working, we are still desperately trying to catch up. We rarely looked back on anything. We make a collection, present it on the catwalk, produce it and put it in storage. We never really removed the old samples until we started working on this exhibit. It brings back so many memories. You forget everything that went into each collection. There are so many stories.
What story do you like to remember?
The story of doll dresses, which was spontaneous. It was 1993 during a parade when Linda Linda Evangelista pulled up to the runway and Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington followed her. This moment has become so iconic. There were so many good times, like having a rock star like Dave Navarro, who played guitar for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I asked him to be a model for me and he said yes. It was exciting to be able to dress her up. He said, “As long as it involves lingerie.”
What inspires you in New York?
It changes. In the 1980s it was downtown Bowery, then East Village and Tribeca, but lately there’s a place on the Lower East Side called Square of dimes near Chinatown where there are a bunch of pop-up shops, interesting places to eat and beautiful people to watch. So, things are still moving.
What do you think of the recovery in retail after the pandemic sparked the boom in e-commerce?
There is no such thing as an spontaneous purchase of something that you can take home. We’ve all learned to shop better online. But how many times have you bought something online and said to yourself, “Oh, that’s not how I imagined it”. Even if you have seen detailed pictures. There is nothing quite like trying something in person.
Do you have any favorite celebrity dress-up moments?
Madonna gave me the confidence to do a fashion show. I was in Paris to attend Fashion Week and I stopped at the Ritz hotel to pick up Madonna. She came out of her room with a coat, when we sat down at the fashion show, she said, “Anna, I put on your dress”, and took off her coat. I thought ‘whoa, how did that happen?’ It made me realize that I had a chance to compete. I thought I had to do a fashion show.
What do you attribute to making your dreams come true, was it focusing and chasing them?
Definitively. You have to have that focus. There is so much competition. When I went to Parsons, there weren’t a lot of people applying to be fashion designers back then, then there were 30 graduates, now there are 300. Back then, there were had millions of jobs, the garment industry was thriving. Now it is very different. This former clothing zone is in decline for economic reasons. Landlords use the buildings for other purposes and discourage clothing companies from renting in this area. It’s a cause I’ve been involved with ever since I heard that my contractors were having trouble renewing their leases. If you want to be a designer these days, you have to realize how many sacrifices you have to make in order to be successful because you have so much more competition. Now it’s a global competition. You can’t just think you want to be a designer, you have to know you want to be a designer. You need that determination.
The St-Germain x Anna Sui bottle bag can be purchased at ReserveBar.