Fantasy Becomes a Reality in Manhattan—Anna Sui

By Joel Lyons

New York-based designer Anna Sui has been recognized by her peers in the fashion industry, most notably the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The association bestowed the Chinese-American with their “Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent” in 1992 and “Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2009.

Sui, who wanted to be a designer since childhood, describes her sense to as “fashion in a young, affordable way,” noting that early in her career, buyers had a hard time placing her fashion-forward love of patterned fabric. That’s done little to stop her from dominating the scene in Asia, Europe and the Middle East; opening dozens of eponymous boutiques and retail counters around the world; and developing a clientele base that includes Drew Barrymore and Nicole Kidman.

With her contemporary competition consisting of the likes of L.A.M.B., Betsey Johnson and Biba, Sui has built a reputation as the designer who creates whimsical and feminine pieces that are infused with vintage and time period specific inspirations. ) “When I’m interested in something, I want to know everything about it,” Sui says on her Web site. “I need to know what’s behind it all. I really enjoy that process.” Born in Detroit, Sui moved to New York to attend the Parsons School for Design before partnering with friend, fellow Parsons alum and now-noted fashion photographer Steven Meisel on a number of shoots for magazines and clothing lines.

It wasn’t long before Sui took part in a boutique show that featured six of her designs. Macy’s quickly ordered and featured in their print advertisements Sui’s designs, which today are regularly showcased at retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, along with her own boutiques.

Her true big break came in 1991 when at the insistence of her top model friends Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista she sashayed her line during a runway show at Fashion Week New York, to rave reviews from critics and fans alike.

“When the show was over, I was crying backstage,” Sui tells “… The whole thing had been put together with so much love. Every time I’m struggling, I look back on that show and it keeps me going.”

And she hasn’t forgotten her roots. Sui stays active in the community, designing a T-Shirt to raise money for scholarships provided by the Organization for Chinese Americans that were sold on and in the flagship store in Seattle last month, and spearheading the movement to save New York City’s rapidly diminishing Garment District.

But her greatest accolades come from her clothing creations. It was recently announced that one of her forthcoming lines will be available to the masses at Target this fall. The collection is inspired by one of television’s most popular shows, Gossip Girl.

“I’m a big fan of Anna Sui and I became a fan of hers through working on the show,” Jessica Szohr who plays Vanessa Abrams told “Every time I would be in a fitting and try something on, I’d be like, ‘Who’s this by?’ They [would] always tell me her.”

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