Anna Sui

Elizabeth Kutesko

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA027

Anna Sui is an American designer of Chinese origin (born in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, USA in 1955). She takes a “mix and match” approach to her heritage, modifying Chinese clothing traditions to fit international fashion tastes by producing rock ’n’ roll, vintage-inspired designs that appeal to a youthful and hip clientele throughout Asia, Europe, and America. As she explains, her design mentality is inextricably linked to her roots: “[I have a] Chinese vision … the color palette that I work with is very Chinese. I think even the prints that I’m attracted to … I’m very Oriental.” Yet at the same time Sui draws inspiration from all over the world, in media as diverse as street fashion, movies, flea markets, museums, books, art exhibits, and music. She observes: “Growing up and learning about Chinese culture from my parents, and hearing them talk about all the different places they had lived … prepared me for thinking globally. This perspective took away any fears of being able to function in a foreign country.” For Sui, fashion returns to its symbolic essence: a diverse, opportunistic, and ephemeral medium that incorporates ethnic and historical references with playful abandon.

Sui attended the Parsons School of Design in New York from 1973 to 1974, where she was influenced by New York’s punk rock scene. On graduating, she worked as a design assistant for a number of junior sportswear firms, including Glenora and Bobbie Brooks, and as a stylist for fashion photographer Steven Meisel. She began designing under her own name in 1980, selling mainly to music stores, and launched her company in 1983. She received international recognition in 1987, having moved her line into the Annette B Showroom under the tutelage of design professional Annette Breindel.

Sui’s first catwalk collection showcased at New York Fashion Week in 1991, an eclectic fusion of Western and Eastern-inspired colors, motifs, textures, patterns, and materials, which alluded to 1960s swinging London and featured supermodels (and friends) Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington. Andrew Bolton remembers: “This riotous cacophony, one of the hallmarks of Sui’s collections, included windowpane suits, vinyl coats, jackets, and pinafores, and houndstooth micro-shorts, mini-kilts, and mini box-pleated skirts … rings, brooches, bracelets, and pendants in the forms of lions and Maltese crosses.”

Sui won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2009, and has since expanded her company to include cosmetics and accessories, which are sold in over 200 boutiques in more than forty countries worldwide.

Anna Sui, Spring/Summer 1994 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Bolton Andrew. Anna Sui . San Francisco, CA : Chronicle Books, 2010.

Find in Library Darraj Muaddi. Anna Sui . New York : Chelsea House, 2009.

Find in Library James Laurie. ““Sui Success”.” Harper’s Bazaar , September 1992 .

Find in Library Menkes Suzy. ““Women Pioneered East Meets West”.” International Herald Tribune , 9 September 2008 .

Find in Library Schiro Anne-Marie. ““Anna Sui Pounds Out the Beat”.” The New York Times , 5 November 1993 .