Defining Moments: Anna Sui

Anna Sui is the classic American fashion designer. From Detroit to New York, her signature rock-n-roll romanticism reinvents pop culture for every new generation. Since her first catwalk show in 1991, Sui has shaped not only the garments, textiles, accessories, beauty and interiors which comprise her design universe, but also the course of fashion history.

In 2017 The Fashion and Textile Museum debuted the exhibition, The World of Anna Sui featuring over 100 looks from the designer’s archive, presenting a roll call of archetypes from Surfers and School Girls to Hippies, Mods and Punks. Since this time the exhibition has toured to Japan and America, during which time we’ve been very proud to call Anna a friend of the Museum.

We spoke to Anna recently about what she considers to be the defining moment of her career and there was only ever one contender: her Spring/Summer 1994 catwalk finale. Discussing the final moments of the show, Anna said “this is definitely one of the most iconic and memorable moments of my career! This happened spontaneously. I think Linda stopped in the middle of the runway and Naomi and Christy joined her. People were screaming!!!”

We wanted to delve a little deeper in to what made this a truly unforgettable moment, so we asked Head of Exhibitions Dennis Nothdruft to tell us more:

There are moments in fashion that only become really apparent in hindsight, and there are moments in fashion that you see and know – this is something. Anna Sui’s collection for Spring/Summer 1994 was one of those moments. The influence of Grunge on American fashion had lit up the New York collections of 1993; collections from Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis and Christian Francis Roth sent shockwaves through the fashion industry.

In her runway show for Spring 1994, Sui continued to push boundaries and explore ideas she’d introduced in 1993. Punk’s anarchic spirit rioted through the collection. Ransom note letters on t-shirts, kilts, oversized and overprinted men’s shirts worn on women – the DIY ethos of Punk was apparent. Gender, already being challenged by Grunge’s biggest names like Kurt Cobain, was fluid on Sui’s runway.  Men and women in matching dresses strode the catwalk with an air of rebellious insouciance. Athletic wear, metallic leathers, Peruvian knits, knee socks and backpacks all jostled for attention in a collection that perfectly captured the new, young mood of American fashion.

To top all of that off, arguably one of the most memorable scenes in the fashion of that decade took place at Sui’s show. Three of the most famous faces in the industry – Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington – joined up on the runway wearing the designer’s coordinating babydoll dresses, feather boas and headpieces, and birthday cake handbags. Witty, knowing, a little rebellious and angelic at the same time; that moment defined the mood of a generation.

We do hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the Fashion and Textile Museum online. If so, please consider making a donation, to help us continue our work during this difficult time.

Every donation will support us in showcasing contemporary fashion and textile design during our closure, and will assist us in welcoming you back to the Museum, as soon as we are able.

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