Fashion Designer Anna Sui Opens Up About Best Shampoo and Death of “Cool”

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LIKE A KID Growing up in Detroit in the 1970s, Anna Sui knew she wanted to be a fashion designer. She was particularly drawn to the colorful designs of Biba, an influential British label in the 1960s and 1970s. At London boutique Biba, her mother bought her a teal puff-sleeve t-shirt and matching eye shadow. “That was it for me. I had never seen anything like Biba, ”recalls Ms. Sui. “The makeup counter [at the London store] was art deco, decorated with plumes of black ostrich feathers. You used to see blue eye shadows, but these were smoky, brown, teal, and plum, and the clothes were all the same color with matching boots and hats.

After founding her eponymous brand in 1981, Ms. Sui is one of the few independent designers to still thrive in New York City, with a fashion and beauty e-commerce operation and physical stores around the world. As a gift for the holidays, in partnership with the St-Germain liquor brand, she made a floral tote in pearls (photo to her right in the portrait above). In his own experience, however, “I don’t think I would say the best [Christmas gifts] are important, ”Ms. Sui said. “It’s more about being with my family. I am really close to them.

In recent years, she has taken her nieces and nephews on trips to Thailand, Greece, Egypt, Russia and Tahiti. His niece Isabelle is his assistant; another niece, Chase, posed for the mark; while a third, Jeannie, worked on Ms. Sui’s e-commerce and web content. “We kind of all work together,” Ms. Sui said.

Here, Ms. Sui talks about her obsession with vintage David Webb animal-shaped bracelets, her daily purchases, and why “cool” is such a loaded word these days.

I learn new things thanks to: my nieces. I’ll ask them what they’re listening to and start exploring. We recently went to “Dimes Square” [a Manhattan shopping district at the triangle where Canal and Division Streets meet] which was a new part of New York for me. It reminded me of the early days of Soho. I bought some neon and ribbon lined linen napkins at the Coming Soon housewares store. It was really fun exploring and then eating at Russ and Daughters.

I collect: jewelry. I love Bakelite. I miss the Portobello Road market in London. There were always all those jet jewelry vendors. My new obsession are the David Webb animal bracelets from the 60s. I remember them in the [Diana] Vogue Vreeland numbers. They were still stacked up, which you can’t do because it chips the enamel. From time to time, I will treat myself to one. I recently received the black frog bracelet. I saw it at auction five years ago and then never saw it again. I finally found another one online, [from a vendor] in Palm Beach.

I start my day with: shopping on my phone. I’m going to see what’s at Mytheresa, what’s at MatchesFashion. I go through the whole range. I try not to buy anything [immediately] because it’s so impulsive. I must be obsessed with something for a day or two. If I forgot it the next day, I didn’t really want to.

Liya Kebede wearing a Raf Simons fall 2021 men’s sweater in Paris. It’s complete, but Ms. Sui has found her own version.


Photo:

Getty Images

The last thing I bought online was: a sweater [model] Liya Kebede wore it on recent men’s fashion shows. It took me a long time to figure out what it was, but eventually I did a Google-Image search and found out it was Raf Simons. I got it on Farfetch. It’s mohair, green and black, with a few twists, and it’s a bit aged. Very Vivienne Westwood: punk type, deconstructed type, two sweaters sewn together. It’s going to be hard to be as beautiful as Liya Kebede wearing it.

One of my favorite breakfasts is: a Young Chicken sandwich and a sundae at Serendipity3 on the Upper East Side. It’s a real treat. I love the atmosphere there. My kitchen is inspired by it and I have furniture that looks like theirs.

On my hair I use: R + Co Television Shampoo and Conditioner. It’s really good for your hair, fresh but not flowery. I have almost everyone in my family who use it, so it’s an easy Christmas present in advance.

My favorite shoes at the moment are: my R13 combat boots [which I’ve been wearing] for over a year, from day to night. They are kind of the look right now.

My favorite visual artist is: Aubrey Beardsley. He was a psychedelic poster artist but from the Art Nouveau period. I think his work shaped a lot of my vision aesthetically, all this black and white stuff. This rings a bell for me. Every time I see him it makes me so happy.

I watched : “The Beatles: Get Back” on Disney + over and over again. It’s eight o’clock, but it’s like spending this month with the Beatles. It was the first group I bought fanzines for. I just keep looking at the outfits, wondering things like: where did George get these boots?

Also my friend [the photographer] Steven Meisel told me to watch “All Passion Spent,” a 1986 three-part BBC series based on a book by Vita Sackville-West with Wendy Hiller. I found it on YouTube. It was amazing, especially the sets. Lately I’ve been watching a lot on YouTube, and you go down that whole rabbit hole, and then it’s five in the morning

FANTASTIC WINNERS Clockwise from top left: Airbrush Towels from Coming Soon; David Webb Twin Frog Bracelet; “Answered Prayers” by Truman Capote; R13 single stack boot; R + Co TV shampoo; Aubrey Beardsley’s “Salome with her mother” from 1894.


Photo:

Getty Images (“John and Salomé”); Coming soon (towels)

My favorite fruit is: The pear. I think it’s an underrated fruit. I particularly like the Bartlett pears.

One of my heroes is: [the late artist and model] Anita Pallenberg, who was a good friend. She was just an amazing person.

If I could organize a dinner with historical figures: I wish I had one with her and [the late member of the Rolling Stones] Brian Jones. I would probably order dim sum.

I often order delivery of: [New York Chinese restaurant] Red Farm. Their soup dumplings have a really good flavor.

I like to travel to: Japan. I went there two or three times a year and always stayed at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. The staff are amazing. The beds are comfy. The pillows are great. There is a huge tub and a closet. You can spread out. It used to be my home away from home, but unlike my own apartment which is so crowded, these rooms are sparse.

I read: “Capote’s Women” by Laurence Leamer, which made me want to reread “Answered Prayers” by Truman Capote. I read it when it came out [in 1987]. It’s so bitchy and mean and flat. The access he had to have! How could someone not come after him?

One cultural shift that I have noticed is that: I don’t know if “cool” is a concept anymore. People say ‘cool’ all the time, but I don’t think ‘cool’ is the same as ‘cool’. The Velvet Underground was “cool”. I don’t know if I would call Harry Styles “cool”. Our concept of “cool” was special, but now the biggest audiences and the most likes seem to be winning.

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