An Interview with Anna Sui, Fashion Designer

An Interview with Anna Sui, Fashion Designer

An Interview with Anna Sui, Fashion Designer.

Was there a turning point in your youth, upbringing, or life that influenced your decision to pursue a profession in fashion design? My closest buddy from kindergarten, Candee, tells me that I was already talking about being a designer when I was four years old. I’m not sure where I got the idea, but I believe it came from something I watched on television. I’ve always imagined a designer with gorgeous fabrics and a large notebook who would drape fabric over a mannequin and then go out to lunch.

It seemed to be a pretty luxurious existence. My mother and I used to go fabric shopping together.

I would watch her sew and then construct doll clothing out of the leftovers. After I learned how to read patterns, I began sewing clothes for myself to wear to school.

Please tell us about how you got your first design job.

I overheard two seniors discussing a job possibility at Charlie’s Girls with Erica Elias during my second year at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. I rushed up with my student portfolio and was hired. I was ecstatic. Erica offered me my own design space, which was arguably the finest job I could have ever had.

I had females who worked in the sewing industry. I had a draper in my room. I was able to develop swimsuits, sportswear, and sweaters since they had five separate departments.

Everything was taught to me. She was a harsh employer, but I don’t believe I would have had the same possibilities if it hadn’t been for that experience.

Even when Charlie’s Girls collapsed, Erica’s reputation continued to open doors for me at a number of other major sportswear companies.

You were interested in starting your own collection in 1981 but weren’t sure how to go about it. What prompted you to start your collection? I had some jewelry-making pals who were attempting to sell their wares at a large New York trade event.

hey requested me to share a booth with them after I manufactured five items of clothes.

To my amazement, I received orders from Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s (and was featured in a New York Times commercial)! I was working at a business named Glenora at the time. “Isn’t this girl on our payroll?” the company’s owner wondered after seeing the ad.

Why is she running an ad in the New York Times?” He threatened to terminate me if I didn’t halt my side business. I was dismissed because I had too many orders to fulfill. That’s how I got my company off the ground.

Your first fashion presentation didn’t happen until 1991, 10 years after you started your company. Why didn’t you decide to perform your first concert sooner, and what pushed you to do so?

I’d never considered doing a real fashion show before then since I’m a pragmatist when it comes to business. Photographer Steven Meisel, stylist (later fashion editor) Paul Cavaco, hairstylist Garren, and makeup artist Francois Nars, as well as the most prominent models of the day, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington, all of whom I knew socially, all worked in fashion. “Clubhouse Central” was my flat. Everyone would congregate at my house to socialize.

My home was often the site of birthday celebrations. We were all quite familiar with one another. My buddies banded together to persuade me that now was the moment to take the leap and contemplate creating a play.

This was the heyday of “power dressing” in the 1980s, with brands like Chanel, Lacroix, and Versace at the forefront. Competing against such businesses appeared to be the most terrifying thing I’d ever done.

I felt compelled to create my own voice and showcase my sensibility in a way that would hold its own against the likes of other well-known fashion brands.

Everyone helped put that first show together: the production, the hair, the makeup, and the models. It was quite moving to me. I was really fortunate to have the assistance of so many outstanding individuals.

I also traveled to Paris with Steven Meisel to view the ready-to-wear collections the season before I staged my first show. Madonna and I attended the Jean Paul Gaultier show. “Anna, I have a surprise for you!” Madonna remarked as we took our seats.

She was wearing one of my gowns when she unbuttoned her coat! I had seen racks and shopping bags from all of the world’s most prestigious houses in her hotel room, yet she decided to wear my gown! I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

If Madonna could choose my garment from among the top designers in the world, I felt a glimmer of hope that I, too, would be able to put on a performance one day.

What has allowed the Anna Sui line to become so well-known throughout the world?

That first performance was a watershed moment in my career. I began to get a lot of worldwide press attention all of a sudden. Being in the right location at the right time was the key.

All of Japan’s department shops were flocking to New York in search of American designers with whom they might collaborate on distribution arrangements. I began to get several offers. I settled on Isetan as my last option. It’s been the most incredible collaboration since Isetan has made my line so well-known in Asia.

In Japan, they built standalone Anna Sui stores. I also own 12 licenses, one of which is for a cosmetic line. And Wella, a German firm, approached me to collaborate on a perfume with me (now with Inter Parfums), which helped to establish me as a worldwide brand.

I also attribute a lot of my success to my parents. My mother studied art and my father was a structural engineer. They met in Paris while they were both students. My father instilled in me a commercial sense, while my mother instilled in me an aesthetic sense.

Following their marriage, they spent three years traveling around Europe before settling in the United States. I was born in the city of Detroit. Growing up and learning about Chinese culture from my parents, as well as hearing them speak about their travels throughout the world, taught me to think internationally. This viewpoint alleviated any concerns about being able to operate in a different country. Their experiences were a blessing in my life.

As a fashion designer, who has had a significant effect on you?

Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel, Ossie Clark, and Zandra Rhodes have always been among my favorite fashion designers throughout history. Barbara Hulanicki’s work with Biba has always inspired me.

What was the most difficult aspect of establishing your collection?

Money was always the most pressing issue. It is not a good business plan to start with $300. For the first 10 years, I had to perform additional design tasks on the side to keep my business afloat. I put every dime I earned back into the company. There were occasions when I didn’t have enough money for a subway token after paying my staff, and I had to walk to my Garment Center office.

I was often given magazine-editing gigs during those early years, but I had to stick to my guns about wanting to be a fashion designer. I wanted to do my own thing, and I was adamant about not deviating from that road. You must have a razor-sharp concentration. That is one of the most important aspects of success. You’ll have to make some compromises and trade-offs along the road. However, you must choose what is more essential to you.

What are your design principles?

People are drawn to my clothes because of the many components I include in them. A tinge of nostalgia is constantly there, as is a lovely, feminine, girlie quality. There’s also a touch of hipness, which I strive to achieve by incorporating a dash of rock-and-roll coolness. There’s always the uncertainty of the good girl/bad girl distinction. If I don’t include all of these elements in my designs, it won’t appear like Anna Sui.

Every product that bears my name must embody the “World of Anna Sui.” When a consumer purchases a tube of lipstick, they should feel as though they are purchasing a garment from my collection. If it doesn’t, I’m not performing my job properly.

For you, how does the design process begin?

Do you start with a theme or a source of inspiration, a silhouette, or a freshly found, must-have fabric?
My shoe collection’s fabric creation and planning always come first since they require the most time. Of course, I need to have a general notion of the topic, but all of my research is done in parallel with the rest of the preparation.

I believe I have the ideal profession since everything I’m now passionate with (films, exhibits, music, books, travel, flea markets) can be used as inspiration for my work. My personal life is so entwined with my professional life. I like conducting research and learning new things.

I’m always eager to tell my customers about the things that fascinate me. I’d want to take them along on the ride. I attempt to pique my customer’s attention and inspire them in the same way that I am.

You have a reputation for being a highly practical fashion designer. How can you create clothing and accessories that are loyal to your style and vision while still being financially viable?

Is there ever a disagreement?
Yes, I am a designer who is extremely realistic. I recognize that there is a significant distinction between a fashion show and the real product that a buyer purchases. I see what ladies desire in my own shop. I understand what they’re requesting. I’ll do wild styling and crazy accessories on the runway (I believe a show needs a little theatrical whimsy), but there’ll always be a beautiful dress or a fantastic top beneath.

What function does social media play in promoting your business and keeping in touch with your customers?

These venues, I understand, are becoming increasingly important in today’s world. Aside from my website, I have a Facebook page where I provide the most recent Anna Sui news.

What advice would you provide to a budding fashion designer who is seeking to establish his or her own line?

Calvin Klein and Tom Ford are both one-of-a-kind designers. You must discover your own specialty.

The competition is fierce, and the conditions are difficult. The trick is to be loyal to yourself. Do what you’re good at and hone your skills. It is preferable to choose your major interests (couture, ready-to-wear, junior, active sportswear) when you are young and only take measures (schools, internships, employment) that lead you in the appropriate path.

My father has always advised me that if I want to run my own business, I should arrive at the workplace every day before the rest of my team and remain later than everyone else. That devotion and hard work philosophy has always motivated me.

You’ve received several accolades over your career, including the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors fashion designers who have made significant contributions to American fashion.
Yves St. Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Bill Blass, and Diane von Furstenberg are just a few of the great fashion designers that have received this honor.

You’ve been named one of Time magazine’s top five style icons. What does it mean to you to be acknowledged by your peers and to be honored in this way? I feel honored and humbled. “Live your dream,” I’ve always said, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s exciting, but it’s also a lot of effort.

You, along with designer Nanette Lepore and other designers, were instrumental in spearheading the “Safeguard the Garment Center” campaign to save New York City’s Garment District. Why did you decide to participate in this project? Except for a small group of sweaters and certain unique diffusion projects I work on for department stores, the entire Anna Sui Collection is created in New York in sewing businesses within five blocks of my office.

New York has a special place in my heart since it is where I was born, where I found my identity, and where my achievements began. I worked for a number of major Seventh Avenue junior firms.

None of them are still alive. My work ethic was motivated by Seventh Avenue. There was no better way to prepare. It shaped who I am now. Today’s students believe they can go from school to developing a collection in one day.

They’re doomed if they don’t succeed. The district is significant not just for New York, but also for the United States. The fashion sector in New York was once the greatest employment in the country.

The fashion scene in New York attracts people from all over the globe, and everyone wants to display there. What does it mean to me if it becomes extinct? It would be a heartbreaker for me.

All of the wonderful American-made suppliers of wools, lace trimmings, pleating, needlework, buttons, and other items are now gone. I used to be able to get anything I needed, including beautiful old-world craftsmanship, right in my own neighborhood, and we can’t let it go.

Your website is beautiful and welcoming! Who produced and maintains the material, and how did the site’s design evolve?

All of the technical planning is handled by our fragrance licensee. All of the artwork is done by Dean Landry (“Chooch”), a fantastic artist. His wonderful cartoon rendition of my “world” is one of my favorites.
In the fast-paced world of fashion, how can you achieve balance?
The business aspect is really challenging and consumes much more of my time than you would expect. Every season, coming up with a new collection is a difficult task.

It’s very simple—I like what I do. Of course, I put in long hours, but I feel that when you are passionate about what you do, it becomes a way of life, a genuine joy.

Describe your ideal day in your own words.

When I’m not working, I like going to the flea market. Following the market, I like going out to lunch with friends and then spending the afternoon together visiting a museum or seeing a movie.