©Alessandro Lucioni /

“It’s such an honour – my first exhibition in New York!” Anna Sui said. “We are always caught up in going forward, doing research; we never look back.”

The designer was talking about the prestige and pleasure of having a dedicated collection in her name at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York.

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©Natasha Cowan

Even though her good friend Zandra Rhodes organised the first edition of this exhibition in London at the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2017 (‘The World of Anna Sui’), it is a big deal to be recognised by the city she has called home since she moved to Manhattan from Detroit, where her Chinese immigrant parents brought her up, to study fashion at Parson’s School of Design., her fashion ‘family’, most of whom have been with her since she started out from a corner of her living room in the 1980s, not only worked on her Spring/Summer 2020 show, but also helped to gather this display of her design history. The London exhibition was curated by Dennis Nothdruft, and it has been adapted for MAD by Barbara Paris Gifford, who has focussed on objects from pretty to Punk.

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©David X Prutting/

They have also included films of Anna Sui shows, and displays of her make-up and beauty products that have been so successful. There is even a touch of the designer’s whimsy in a model of Diana Vreeland, early Vogue editor and fashion curator at New York’s Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vreeland’s distinctive fierce face greets museum visitors as they exit the elevator. the exhibition, the primary feeling is of colour, used in a galaxy of different shades that run from head to toe in Anna Sui’s outfits – not least for the boots displayed at the museum on pieces of dark furniture borrowed from the designer’s Downtown store. The clothes are also much the same in their deep decoration, whatever the subject of the season, such as those displayed in the ‘Punk’ category.

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©Natasha Cowan

To complement the exhibition, the Spring/Summer 2020 show was quieter than usual, with no all-singing, all-dancing model shenanigans. Instead, the colours were quiet, drawn from Mid-century Modern artists such as the set designer Lila de Nobili, who worked with the great Italian directors, Visconti and Zeffirelli. The colours were exceptionally soft: coral, apricot, and rose printed in jungle gardens, daisies or stripes, or a butterfly quilted jacket and lace-trimmed sandals.

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©Alessandro Lucioni /

Noted for her intensely researched shows, Anna elaborated on the influence behind this season. “Nobili had this light airy touch,” Anna explained. “She was the niece of Marcel Vertès [a celebrated artist who painted the walls of New York’s famous Café Carlyle] and not only made costumes, but worked with Lorenzo Mongiardino on interiors. For Lee Radziwill’s house, the one with the gypsy scarves on the walls, Nobili painted the flowers on Mongiardino’s striped wallpaper. That’s how I came across her name, through a Mongiardino book. I loved the femininity, the lightness and the airiness of her work, and the fact she had a [design] family that she worked with her whole life.

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“Also, my favourite vintage vendor has gorgeous posts on Instagram. She does colour hues, so I put a lot of them up on my wall. And then there’s this woman who does these beautiful flowered cupcakes on Instagram – the most incredible colour stories. I feel that some of my embroideries are confections. We did a lot of quilting – that pale lemony-yellow embroidery with the roses feels like cupcakes have been put on the dress.”

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©Alessandro Lucioni /

Dresses good enough to eat – pure Anna Sui.

‘The World of Anna Sui’ is at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York until 23 February 2020 (for more information, click here).