A ‘World’ indeed

As they say, sometimes life gets in the way…

That was my thinking when walking into the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan on a recent afternoon, determined to finally tour “The World of Anna Sui.”

The sweeping exhibition had opened in September – we noted it the “What’s Trending” column that month – yet I hadn’t been down yet.

The moment I stepped into the lobby, with its giant installation by Dean “Chooch” Landry of the original Sui boutique in New York surrounding the elevators (themselves sporting interior designs that further reflect the exhibition), I knew I was in for a treat – and what a treat it was.

The show, rightly billed as a major retrospective, is a kaleidoscope of texture, color and sound (amazing soundtrack), tracing the Detroit-born Sui from her early days and inspirations through her education and start in the fashion world and rise. Her career is well-examined in a style that truly reflects her approach and aesthetic, adding up to a well-rounded portrait of someone we’d not only like to wear – but know.

The show features some 75 looks from Sui’s archive, from her first fashion show in 1991 through her Spring 2019 collection.

Chris Scoates, MAD’s Nanette L. Laitman Director, said in advance of the show, “Born and bred in Detroit, Anna Sui is a fascinating American design success story. 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.”

He also spoke of welcoming visitors to, “an unforgettable immersive experience of Anna’s design universe.”

And that’s exactly what the exhibition proves to be – a celebration of Sui’s world, from her love of all things vintage to her affinity for design and pop culture, including film, music and so much more. There is Tiffany lighting hanging overhead and posters and fashion illustrations from Sui’s own collection creating the backdrop for this candid exploration of her work.

The first iteration of “The World of Anna Sui” made its debut in the summer of 2017 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London. It was curated by Dennis Nothdruft for the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, and adapted for MAD by assistant curator Barbara Paris Gifford with support from assistant manager of curatorial affairs Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy.

“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 Gifford in press materials accompanying the show. “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.”

It’s a heady, enveloping journey, as we wander through vignettes devoted to Sui’s “design archetypes,” such as Rock Star, Punk or Nomad, all supplemented by videos of fashion shows, photographs, jewelry and cosmetics. Particularly striking is a wall devoted to inspiration boards showing sketches and fabric samples.

Throughout, visitors see models and collaborators, artifacts and more. WAG was tickled to immediately recognize Ralph Pucci mannequins throughout the show, as Pucci is a past WAG cover subject).

The approach and personality of Sui, also a pioneer of the Save the Garment Center movement, is palpable throughout the show.

As a quote of hers sums up: “Every product I put my name on has to personify the Anna Sui label. A tube of lipstick should create the same excitement as buying a dress from my collection. If it doesn’t, then I’m not doing my job.”

If I didn’t suggest, strongly, you head to MAD to catch this exhibition, then I wouldn’t be doing my job.

“The World of Anna Sui,” with related programming, continues through Feb. 23 at the Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

For more, visit madmuseum.org.

– Mary Shustack

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