Fashion designer Anna Sui on the best shampoo and the death of ‘cool’

AS A CHILD 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, a British brand that was influential in the 1960s and 1970s. Her mother bought her a teal t-shirt with puffy sleeves and matching eyeshadow in London’s Biba boutique. “That was it for me. I had never seen anything like Biba, ”recalls Ms. Sui. “The make-up counter [at the London store] was Art Deco, decorated with feathers made from black ostrich feathers. They were used to seeing blue eyeshadow, but it was smoke and maroon and teal and plum, and the clothes were all the same colors with matching boots and matching hats. ”

After founding her label of the same name in 1981, Ms. Sui is one of the few independent designers who is still successful in New York City, with an e-commerce company for fashion and beauty and stationary stores worldwide. As a Christmas present, she made a bottle bag with flower pearls in collaboration with the spirits brand St-Germain (pictured above on the right of her). In her own experience, however, “I don’t think I would say the best [Christmas gifts] are material, ”said Ms. Sui. “It’s more with my family. I am very close to them. ”

In recent years she has taken her nieces and nephews on trips to Thailand, Greece, Egypt, Russia and Tahiti. Her niece Isabelle is her assistant; another niece, Chase, has modeled for the brand; while a third, Jeannie, was working on Ms. Sui’s e-commerce and web content. “We all work together somehow,” said Ms. Sui.

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

I learn new things from: My nieces. I’ll ask them what they hear and just start exploring. We were recently in “Dimes Square” [a Manhattan shopping district at the triangle where Canal and Division Streets meet] what a new part of New York was for me. It reminded me of the early days of Soho. I bought some linen napkins with neon and ribbon edging at the Coming Soon household goods store. Really fun exploring the area and then eating at Russ and Daughters.

I collect: Jewellery. I love bakelite. I miss going to Portobello Road Market in London. There were always all these sellers selling jet jewelry. My latest obsession is David Webb animal bracelets from the 1960s. I remember her in the [Diana] Vreeland editions of Vogue. They were always stacked, which is actually impossible to do because the enamel is peeling off. Every now and then I treat myself to one. I recently got the black frog bracelet. I saw it at auction five years ago, then I 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’ll see what’s at Mytheresa what’s at MatchesFashion. I’m going through the scale. I’m not trying to buy anything [immediately] because it’s so impulsive. I must be obsessed with something for a day or two. If I forgot about it the next day, I didn’t really want it.

Liya Kebede wears a Raf Simons men’s sweater in Paris in autumn 2021. It’s sold out, but Ms. Sui found her own version.


Getty Images

The last thing I bought online was: a sweater [model] Liya Kebede wore at the recent men’s fashion shows. It took me a long time to find out what it was, but I ended up searching for it using google image and found it was Raf Simons. I have it on Farfetch. It’s mohair, green and black, with a little cable pattern and a little used look. Very Vivienne Westwood: somehow punk, somehow deconstructed, two sweaters sewn together. It’s going to be hard to look as good as Liya Kebede wearing it.

One of my favorite foods is: a young chicken sandwich and sundae at Serendipity3 on the Upper East Side. It’s such a treat. I love the atmosphere there. My kitchen is inspired by it and I have furniture that looks exactly like yours.

For my hair I use: R + Co Television Shampoo and Conditioner. It’s really good for your hair – fresh but not floral. I have almost everyone in my family with it, so it was a simple early Christmas present.

My favorite shoes right now are: my R13 combat boots [which I’ve been wearing] for more than a year, from day to evening. You look like this right now.

My favorite visual artist is: Aubrey Beardsley. He was a psychedelic poster artist, but from the Art Nouveau era. I think his work aesthetically shaped so much of my vision, the whole black and white thing. It rings for me. When I see it it makes me so happy.

I watched: “The Beatles: Get Back” on Disney + again and again. It’s eight hours, but it’s like spending this month with the Beatles. That was the first band I bought fanzines for. I keep looking at the outfits and ask myself: Where did George get these boots from?

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

WONDERFUL WINNERS Clockwise from top left: Coming Soon’s airbrush napkins; David Webb’s Twin Frog Bracelet; Truman Capote’s ‘Answered Prayers’; Single stack boot from R13; TV shampoo from R + Co; Aubrey Beardsley’s “Salome with Her Mother” from 1894.


Getty Images (“John and Salome”); Coming soon (napkins)

My favorite fruit is: the pear. I think it’s an underrated fruit. I particularly like 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 have a dinner party with historical figures: I would like one with her and [the late member of the Rolling Stones] Brian Jones. I would probably order in dim sum.

I often order delivery from: [New York Chinese restaurant] RedFarm. Their soup dumplings have really great taste.

I love to travel to: Japan. I used to go two or three times a year and always stay at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. The staff is amazing. The beds are comfortable. The pillows are great. There is a huge bathtub and storage space. You can spread. It was my second home, but unlike my own apartment, which is so cluttered, these rooms are barren.

I read: “Capote’s Women” by Laurence Leamer, which made me reread “Answered Prayers” by Truman Capote. I read it when it first came out [in 1987]. It’s so bitchy and mean and shabby. He must have had access! How could someone not have met him?

One cultural change that I noticed is: I don’t know if “cool” is still a term. People say “cool” all the time, but I don’t think “cool” is “cool”. The Velvet Underground was “cool”. I don’t know if I would call Harry Styles “cool”. Our concept of “cool” was something special, but now it seems that the bigger audience and the more likes are gaining in popularity.

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