8 Moments That Shaped Anna Sui’s Legendary Fashion Career

According to legend, Anna Sui knew she wanted to be a fashion designer at the age of four. The Chinese-American designer has come a long way since then, with over 50 boutiques in eight countries and an array of collaborations that range from fragrances to footwear.

Sui will now be honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design, or MAD, in New York City, starting Sept. 12. “The World of Anna Sui,” which first debuted in London in 2017, features 75 looks from the designer’s immense archive. Garments expected to be shown include clothing from Sui’s first-ever fashion show in 1991, one of the “babydoll dresses” worn by Linda EvangelistaNaomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, as well as pieces from her spring ’19 collection. 

Below take a look back on the definitive moments that shaped Sui’s signature punk rock glam style.

1. Anna Sui Launches Her Fashion Line, 1980

Model wearing an outfit from the Anna Sui fall 1984 ready to wear collection, Anna Sui retrospective
Model wearing an outfit from the Anna Sui fall 1984 ready-to-wear collection.
CREDIT: Fairchild Fashion Media Archives

After attending Parsons School of Design in New York for two years, Anna branched off and designed for several sportswear companies. She also styled photoshoots for her friend and former Parsons classmate, photographer Steven Meisel. Inspired by the underground rock music scene in New York and her hometown of Detroit, Sui began creating clothes with a countercultural flare in her spare time. She brought five pieces to a trade show in New York. That day, her label was picked up by the New York department stores Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, and the rest is history.

2. Anna Sui’s First Fashion Show, 1991

Models backstage at Anna Sui's Spring/Summer 1993 show in New York City, Anna Sui Retrospective
Models backstage at Anna Sui’s spring 1993 show in New York City.
CREDIT: Fairchild Fashion Media Archives

Over the next decade, Sui focused on creating her namesake label. By then, she had generated quite a following. The show was reportedly held in New York’s up-and-coming Meatpacking District, and supermodels Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista were on the runway.

3. Anna Sui Opens SoHo Store, 1992

Anna Sui, Teva, April 2019
Anna Sui in her SoHo boutique.
CREDIT: Sara Kerens

Sui opened her first store on Greene Street in trendy SoHo. The flagship store became a cultural hub for the downtown music and fashion scene. The same year, the designer won the CFDA Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent. Today you can still visit Sui’s boutique, which moved around the corner to Broome Street. Sui has 50 boutiques in eight countries, and each is modeled after her original store on Greene Street, which had red wooden floors, purple walls and Victorian-inspired wallpaper.

4. Anna Sui Debuts her ‘Babydoll Dresses,’ 1993

(L-R): Christy Turlington Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista in the "Baby Doll Dresses" Designed By Anna Sui At New York Fashion Week, Anna Sui Retrospective
(L-R): Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista in “babydoll dresses” designed by Anna Sui.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Inspired by the girl grunge groups of the ’90s, Sui created one of the most iconic looks to debut at New York Fashion Week: a trio of babydoll dresses. During Sui’s spring ’94 show, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista sauntered down the runway wearing the soft, fluffy babydoll dresses and the crowd went wild. “Afterward, those dresses became so successful that they were almost my whole business at that point. I was selling them in most of the major department stores. Barneys bought them. Sofia Coppola wore them. That was it,” Sui told The New York Times.

5. Anna Sui Expands to Cosmetics and Fragrances, 1999

Sui’s step into the beauty industry was just the first of many ventures outside of clothing. In the next decade, Sui would expand her talents and name with not only cosmetic and fragrance licenses but also collaborations on projects such as lingerie with Victoria’s Secret, footwear with Hush Puppies and an exclusive line with Target. 

6. Anna Sui Honored With Lifetime Achievement Award by CFDA, 2009

Designer Anna Sui attends the 2009 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. Sui received the evening's 'Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award.'2009 CFDA Awards, New York, Anna Sui Retrospective
Anna Sui at the 2009 CFDA Fashion Awards in New York City receiving the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award.
CREDIT: Fairchild Fashion Media Archives

In 2009, Sui was honored with the prestigious Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award by the CFDA for her outstanding work in the fashion industry. Musician and fellow Detroit native Jack White presented the designer with the award. The same year, Sui collaborated with Target on a ready-to-wear line that was inspired by hit TV show “Gossip Girl.”

7. London’s Fashion and Textile Museum Gives Anna Sui a Retrospective, 2017

"The World of Anna Sui" at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, Anna Sui retrospective
“The World of Anna Sui” at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The Fashion and Textile Museum of London honored Sui with an immersive retrospective that highlighted her nearly 40-year career.

8. Anna Sui Teams Up with Teva, 2018

bella, hadid, runway, anna, sui, teva, anna sui retrospective
Bella Hadid at the Anna Sui spring ’19 show in September 2018, wearing the designer’s Teva collaboration sandals.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

In 2019, the designer jumped on one of the hottest footwear trends of 2019: the ugly sandal. Sui teamed up with Teva for her spring 2019 collection to create some of the most popular shoes of the season. The comfort style has become a phenomenon that isn’t going away anytime soon.

A major retrospective of the iconic American fashion designer’s work, “The World of Ann Sui,” opens during NYFW 2019, running from Sept. 12 through Feb. 23, 2020, at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

Watch on FN

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content