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Anna Sui’s World Turns at the Museum of Arts and Design

Photo by Michaela Zee

Crushed velvet, billowed ruffles and graphic patterns from fashion designer Anna Sui are situated on the fourth and fifth floors of the Museum of Arts and Design. These collections are housed within their own displays alongside a backdrop related to their themes. The title of the exhibition, “The World of Anna Sui,” is printed in bold block letters near the elevators. 

The exhibition opened in September 2019, and shows about 70 of the designer’s ensembles, in an effort to capture Sui’s overall contribution to fashion. 

Anna Sui is an American fashion designer and alum of Parsons School of Design. She is best known for her approach to fashion with her rock-and-roll style and forming a narrative through her pieces. 

Photo by Michaela Zee

“Anna Sui’s collections were in step with the rapidly shifting, increasingly globalized world she was living in amidst the 1990’s,” said Kim Jenkins, Parsons Professor and alum. “Alongside her peers, the likes of Isaac Mizrahi, Marc Jacobs and Todd Oldham, they represented ‘Generation X,’ a generation left to their own devices to make a success of themselves. The result was fashion that added significant value through elements of nostalgia, cultural mélange and signals of the cool, New York-dwelling lifestyle.” 

Purple and black dim the atmosphere within the exhibition, and the fourth floor displays six archetypes featured in Sui’s designs: Mod, Androgyny, Retro, Surfer, Americana, and Schoolgirl. Mod and Androgyny stand between two large-scale screens projecting the designer’s runway events. In the center of the exhibit, Sui’s Retro and Surfer designs sit in front of a tropical background with four fake palm trees planted around the display. Americana and Schoolgirl are stationed beside another screen playing one of Sui’s fashion shows. 

Photo by Michaela Zee

The fourth floor also contains an additional section titled “Behind the Scenes.” This room showcases several contributions from Sui’s collaborators, such as fashion designer James Coviello and makeup artist Pat McGrath. “Behind the Scenes” exhibits multiple items, including boots, jewelry, cosmetics, and other accessories. 

On the fifth floor of the Museum of Arts and Design, several more of Anna Sui’s collections are on display, as well as biographical information, contributions and personal possessions. Photographs of her designs also cover specific areas of the walls. The collections are labeled under the archetypes Grunge, Victorian, Hippie & Rockstar, Punk, Nomad, and Fairytale. 

Photo by Michaela Zee

“I’m always looking for the unfamiliar perspective on familiar things. That takes research, which is my favorite thing,” a quote from Sui states beneath the caption “Anna’s Archetypes.”

The center of the fifth floor exhibits a re-creation of certain elements – such as Sui’s psychedelic posters – that were either in her teenage bedroom and/or her apartment in New York City.

Photo by Michaela Zee

The room adjacent to the middle portion features Sui’s “Pop-timistic” mood boards. From color palettes to textiles, these boards illustrate Sui’s creative process for her collections. A quote from Anna Sui under “The Design Process” reads, “Resourcing is very important to me. I meet all the trim people, the fabric people, the button people, the pleating and embroidery people…But I keep coming back to music, too.”

New School students can immerse themselves within Anna Sui’s eclectic environment until Feb. 23, 2020. Tickets are available for $12 with a student I.D. for the Museum of Arts and Design, located at 2 Columbus Circle. 

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