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The World of Anna Sui

The World of Anna Sui

20 November 2021 - 1 May 2022

Mint Museum Randolph



Courtesy of the Fashion and Textile Museum, London


Anna Sui discussing her design and production process with THNKR

Courtesy of the Fashion and Textile Museum, London

Courtesy of the Fashion and Textile Museum, London



Born and raised in Detroit, educated in New York, Anna Sui reinvented pop culture fashion with her signature rock-and-roll romantic label in the 1990s and has remained a design icon ever since. A self-taught historian of culture, art, and fashion, she samples music, books, exhibitions, movies, time periods, photography, and art movements in her designs. The World of Anna Suwill give visitors an insight into the Sui’s design process, presenting looks from twelve archetypes that are staples of the Sui aesthetic alongside posters, magazine clippings, inspiration boards and other memorabilia that influenceSui throughout her creative process. This exhibition is organized by the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, and curated by Dennis Northrup.The World of Anna Sui is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book by fashion historian Tim Banks. 






Fall 1991 was Anna Sui's first runway show, inspired by Mod style: 

Fall 2014 was inspired by the style of Anna May Wong:

Spring 2020 is one of her most recent shows:  



Cultural history behind each style, along with some of Sui's inspirations


The archetypes are not mutually exclusive and often overlap and interact with each other throughout her work. For example, 

while the Mudd Club served as inspiration for her Mod designs, it also heavily influenced her take on Punk aesthetics.




"If grunge music was an alternative to stadium rock, the kind of clothes I designed were my alternative to power dressing."


Grunge was popular in the 80's/90s in both counter-culture music and fashion, with a dishelved and distressed appearance.




"When I made my first punk collection in Spring 1994, I wanted to make it positive. The concept of nihilism was never me, anyway."


Punk, like earlier subcultures, juxtaposes different pieces to create an unconventional look. The style features dark colors, harsh lines, and heavy accessories.




"The greatest designers have always understood that the shadowland between genders is where some of the most haunting stories lie." 


Androgyny blurs the line between traditionally male and female fashion, challenging the gender binary. 



"Someone once said that being backstage at my shows was like being backstage at a gig. I guess i'm a rock chick at heart."


The hippie movement emerged out of activism in the '60's. The style often included transformed vintage pieces and appropriated ethnic clothing, resulting in a psychadelic, free-flowing look.

Rockstar fashion emerged from the attire of 1960's musicians and the boutiques they frequented.




"There was just something so graphic and positive and revolutionary about the mod spirit."


The Mod or "Modern" movement was started by young people in post-war 1960's Britain who wanted to "distance themselvers from their parents."

  • History of mod culture from John Smedley
  • Detailed History of Mod from the GBACG
  • Article about the Mudd Club from CR Fashion 
  • Compare to Sui's Fall '91 Line, shown in a video under "On the Runway"



"The darker truths behind all that sun and surf and blonde hair and white teeth appealed to my twisted side."


Surfer style was inspired by the baggy, casual clothes worn by surfers. Floral and tropical prints made an appearance in earlier styles.



"I'm particularly drawn to nomadic cultures, where the artisanship had to be tightly focused on what could be worn or carried"


The nomad archetype shows Sui's interest in exploring cultural styles and costumes from around the world.




"The reaction to the Victorian era certainly inspired an outpouring of emotional and artistic extravagance."


Victorian Era of the 1800's and the following Belle Époque were romantic periods charactorized by excessive wealth and adornment.  



"Optimism and romance -- they've always colored my Americana"


American culture can be hard to define, and is specific to each person. Common themes can stem from the vast landscape and popular culture.




"The live-for-the moment extravagance of these people was inspiring. It was a time when nobody had money but everyone looked like a million bucks."


Retro is a reemergence of past styles and previous decades. 

  • Article about the Yves Saint-Laurent Liberation/Quarante collection, Spring '71, from The Cut
  • Inspiration: Busby Berkeley Musicals, article from BFI 
  • Compare to Sui's Spring '08 Line 



"It's about optimism, entusiasm for the future, a refusal to be beaten and bowed by the way things are." 


The schoolgirl aesthetic often features short pleated skirts, cardigans, and uniforms.

  • Inspired by the Japanese schoolgirl style
    • Article on schoolgirl stereotypes from Voices of Gen-Z 
  • Article on the fashion of Riot Grrrl from AnOther 
  • Inspiration: wardrobe designed by Yves Saint-Laurent in the film Belle De Jour
  • Compare to Sui's Spring '94 Line 



"I am a storyteller. Which is why I love fairytales... The fantasy-- the dressing up part of fashion-- has never lost its magic for me"


Fairytale is remenicent of old storybook tales and princess styles, drawing inspiration from fanstasy novelists and artists.


**quotes pulled from The World of Anna Sui**





"Music made the fashion more amazing, more accessible." - Anna Sui, in The World of Anna Sui


  • Article about her musical influences in Vanity Fair 
  • Sui discusses her Grunge/Punk music influences in an Interview with Rolling Stone
  • Interview with For the Record, by Spotify
    • Along with the interview, Sui curated a playlist inspired by New York Fashion Week, featuring music played in her shows over the years
    • ***This playlist can be viewed on the right, however, listening to the selections requires a Spotify account
  • List of runway playlists from 2013-2015 in Nylon 






Behind the Scenes:

Interview with Coveteur discussing her preparations for shows


Behind the scenes at Mercedez Benz Fashion week, Spring 2014:


More Influences:

  • Interview with Forbes about her inspirations
  • Audio Tours from the MAD Museum, featuring Sui's collaborators throughout the years





Select Print Resources in the Mint Museum Library Collection:

Blanks, Tim. The World of Anna Sui. Abrams, 2017. 

Bolton, Andrew. Anna Sui. Chronicle, 2010.

more print resources


Created by Shreya Dwibedy, Mint Museum Library Intern, Summer 2021