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Anna Sui: Made in China

Thursday, 07 January 2010

Anna SuiAll girls play with their dolls. But Anna Sui was the only one who, when dressing her little protégés, cherished a dream that someday she would design real garments, and not simple ones, but the ones that would make women happy. And her dream came true, as those fair ladies who wear Anna Sui dresses can consider themselves lucky to be donning apparel of such unforgettable design and vigor.

For Anna Sui, even business is a creative endeavor and a way of expression, let alone the process of designing clothing. Eccentric outfits, where eclectic reigns supreme, are perfect reflection of the designer's world, - the fact well known to those who are personally acquainted with Ms. Sui. Anna Sui was born in Detroit to French-educated Chinese emigrants in 1964. Her early aspiration to become a clothing designer did not fade away with age. Instead, it grew stronger, although her models were bigger, life size. She came to New York to attend Parsons School of Design after graduating from high school in the early 1970s - an era whose music-inspired fashion scene, mix-it-up attitude, and free-spirited energy influenced Sui to a great extent. After only two years, though, she ditched class and plunged headfirst into the industry, learning the ropes designing for sportswear labels and styling for the photographer Steven Meisel, a friend, on shoots.  

During this time she began designing clothing out of her apartment which retailed at locations such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's. In 1980, prompted by friends, she started her own company. Greatly influenced by New York's punk scene of the 1970s, Sui's main focus was on selling her funky styles to music stores, though she continued as a stylist for Meisel. This changed around 1987, when Sui decided to «get serious about being a designer» as she recalled, despite some of her employers who obviously didn't enjoy Sui's enthusiasm for designing her own clothes. Thus, the future fashion icon was faced with a choice, and remained faithful to her dream.

With the encouragement of her friends Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, Sui launched her first runway show in 1991 which caused quite a stir. Following this incredible reception she opened a retail store in New York City's Soho District. This shop, with its lavender walls, red floors, antique black furniture, and signature dolly head mannequins has become a staple of SOHO fashion and synonymous with the Anna Sui brand.  A year later, in 1993, Sui was not only recognized as the queen of fashion show extravaganzas and hip New York style, but also won a Perry Ellis Award as the best young designer.

The success has inspired Sui to explore new territories and to expand, which in the fashion world means designing shoes, accessories, producing cosmetics and perfumes. In 1997, Anna Sui Shoes premiered on her runway for the fall collection. Manufactured by Ballin in Venice, the shoe collection included both day and evening styles, in velvet, silk, patent leather, snake and lizard skin, shearling and suede. Two years later, in 1999, Sui launched her signature fragrance and cosmetic line. Since its beginning, the fragrance line has expanded to include Sui Love, Sui Dreams, Dolly Girl, and most recently, in association with Victoria's Secret, the fragrance Secret Wish.

Collection after collection, show after show, Sui enjoys great appreciation of the world fashion elite and common people. Certainly, comparisons with Miuccia Prada, who was a fashion icon at that time, were flattering to Sui in her early designer years. Today, Anna Sui is a fashion icon herself, who draws inspiration from art exhibits, films, flea markets, museums, music, and street fashion. She does not simply pluck ideas from the past or another culture, but instead pulls together themes from many sources and seeks to relate them to what people are currently experiencing. She understands that her customers want to express themselves through their clothing and not feel as if they were wearing a costume, instead, her apparel looks like it belongs not to the catwalk but to the high street, be it overcrowded York, refined Paris or hip Milan. Sui's designs attract many famous clients such as Paris Hilton, Patricia Arquette, Mischa Barton, Christina Ricci, Cher, Naomi Campbell, Sofia Coppola, Lindsay Lohan and many other fancy ladies of high society.

In 2009, Sui won the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) Lifetime Achievement Award, which serves to honor contributions made to American fashion by outstanding individuals in the industry. Sui joins the ranks of Yves St Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg and Bill Blass, who are past recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award. This year Sui celebrated her 45-th anniversary and has already become a person whose contribution to the fashion has been valued as high as the input of those who worked for decades on the fashion scene.

In an interview with CNN, Sui confessed that she was looking forward to the retirement and would like to work in a museum afterwards. That's quite understandable, as in a museum she could do the same thing that she does today - explore, observe, look for a story, something unusual that might be behind the most ordinary little thing. This philosophy has become her credo, because, according to the designer, her biggest fear is to become conservative. Luckily, such thing is never possible with her life philosophy.

Well, as Anna Sui is not even close to her retirement we have so many years ahead of us to enjoy her designs. Among the eclectic variety of glorious Anna Sui fashions, everyone can find a design to express oneself.

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