Anna’s Doll­house Play­time with Anna Sui

There’s noth­ing like play­ing dress up with a world­class fash­ion de­signer, es­pe­cially when in­vited into her very own life-size dream home.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents - By Aye­sha Khan. Pho­tographed by Christo­pher Stur­man.

“She’s al­ways very fem­i­nine, but a lit­tle bit rock and roll, too. She’s very vin­tage but very trendy. There is al­ways a de­fi­ance be­hind it all. Is she a fairy princess or a witch, or both?” says Anna Sui of her ideal cus­tomer, as we browse the eclec­tic closet of her New York apart­ment. Per­haps in­ad­ver­tently, or per­haps even de­lib­er­ately, she’s just de­scribed her­self. This is a woman who thinks noth­ing of run­ning up two flights of stairs in her party dress (any­thing from a kaf­tan ac­quired from a Liz Tay­lor auc­tion to a vin­tage Zan­dra Rhodes) to the en­ter­tain­ment an­nexe of her Green­wich Vil­lage digs (when her own apart­ment on the ninth floor over­flowed, and an­other be­came avail­able on the 11th, she took it). She calls it her doll­house. “All my friends say that this is Anna’s doll­house. It’s re­ally true be­cause I’ll travel around the world and find lit­tle ob­jects and things to put up in this apart­ment. It’s a lit­tle dis­play place.”

If you’ve ever been to an Anna Sui store (a ver­i­ta­ble boudoir of in­trigue where floors are in­vari­ably painted scar­let red and walls mauve) you’ll find it hard to be­lieve that her own in­ner sanctum ac­tu­ally fol­lows a strictly monochro­matic scheme. “I had so many black and white things that for some rea­son I got fix­ated on mak­ing it all black and white, which people prob­a­bly found dif­fer­ent for me, be­cause they prob­a­bly ex­pected me to do ev­ery­thing in pur­ple and red!” Anna laughs. Ev­ery de­sign el­e­ment, from the chi­nois­erie wall­pa­per (in­tro­duced to her by de­sign icon Iris Apfel) to the fur­ni­ture com­prises an an­thol­ogy of anec­dotes. Most of her pieces are flea mar­ket finds and Anna is proud to ad­mit many even come from Anthropologie; al­though ev­ery­thing was swathed in black lac­quer with gold ac­cents, re­flect­ing Anna’s sig­na­ture style and her proud Ori­en­tal roots.

And then there’s all that’s on dis­play. There is a collection of rock por­traits given to her by pho­tog­ra­phers such as Linda McCart­ney and Jim Mar­shall, a menagerie of pa­pier mâché heads from Gemma Tac­cogna and an ar­ray of dec­o­ra­tive ob­jet, in­clud­ing, but cer­tainly not limited to, black Vi­en­nese carved crys­tal lamps, a Korean in­laid ta­ble and a cu­ri­ous collection of trade signs – a pair of over-scaled scis­sors and glasses among them. She’s got a story to tell about the pil­lows that cas­cade over the chaise. “One of the young ladies that worked in my store in LA made those one year and gave them to me for my birth­day. They were such a treat!” In fact, there’s even a story to the chaise – it’s up­hol­stered in a fab­ric from one of Anna’s own col­lec­tions.

But the scene in her first apart­ment was far dif­fer­ent. It was an ar­che­typal Chelsea loft (the Chelsea of decades past, mind you, not to­day’s home of hip and High­line). In one cor­ner stood a rack of Anna’s cre­ations (this rack spoiled her floors so badly that she was forced to redo them, choos­ing her now sig­na­ture red over a bor­ing wood tone), and there was lit­tle fur­ni­ture. “I never wanted fur­ni­ture, I never wanted a couch, I wasn’t into any of that,” she re­calls. She had other pri­or­i­ties hav­ing just been fired from her job at Glenora be­cause she had the au­dac­ity to share a booth with friends to show­case her de­signs at a lo­cal trade show, gar­ner­ing the in­ter­est of depart­ment stores and (gasp) The New York Times! But what Anna lacked in in­te­rior adorn­ments and em­ploy­ment she made up for in house guests – the likes of su­per­star fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Steven Meisel and su­per­model friends Naomi Camp­bell and Linda Evan­ge­lista.

It is this mot­ley crew, com­bined with a lit­tle coax­ing from none other than Madonna that prompted Anna to go all out in her very first fash­ion show (con­ve­niently Naomi and Linda were on hand to walk for her). “The first fash­ion show I went to was in Paris with Madonna. We had picked her up at the Ritz and she came out wear­ing her coat and we drove to the venue. Once we were seated she took off her coat and she said, ‘Anna I have a sur­prise for you’, and she was wear­ing my dress. That gave me con­fi­dence. I thought here’s some­one who could have any­thing in the world and she was wear­ing my dress,” re­calls Anna.

Then it was time to open her own store, which she did in SoHo, the Capi­tol Hill of the fash­ion cap­i­tal. “One of my friends had din­ner with me and said, ‘I’m kind of psy­chic and I think you need to open a bou­tique.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? I don’t have any money. How am I go­ing to open a bou­tique?’ He said, ‘Just fig­ure it out. Once you show­case yourself, it’s all go­ing to hap­pen.’ That proved to be true. People re­ally got it then. We didn’t have a lot of money so we made all the pa­pier mâché heads, we got all the fur­ni­ture in the flea mar­ket and painted it our­selves, we painted the walls our­selves. It was just my broth­ers, all my friends, and I. Even my dad would come to help me set up,” she re­calls of the flag­ship whose sin­gu­lar de­sign set the tone for some 300 in­ter­na­tional re­tail lo­ca­tions to come. Recog­ni­tion fol­lowed, with Anna be­ing named one of

Time’s top fash­ion de­sign­ers and win­ning the pres­ti­gious CFDA Ge­of­frey Beene Life­time Achieve­ment Award. “I have never been part of the mass of fash­ion, I have al­ways done my own thing. I’ve al­ways been seen so sep­a­rate so it was a big sur­prise to me when I was given the Life­time Achieve­ment award be­cause I never ex­pected it. I never even thought about it! It was one of the most thrilling mo­ments when I got that phone call from [CFDA pres­i­dent] Diane von Fürsten­berg,” she says of fash­ion’s ul­ti­mate hon­our. But she’s show­ing no signs of slow­ing down. Her Au­tumn/Win­ter ’14 collection, in­spired by Ori­en­tal de­sign and Chi­nois­erie through the Deco lens of the Western world, has al­ready re­ceived plau­dits by fash­ion crit­ics. Based on the suc­cess of her fra­grance La Vie de Bo­hème, a duo of more in­tense scents aptly named La Nuit de Bo­hème launches this sum­mer around the world. As our play date in Anna’s doll­house comes to a close, I spritz on some Nuit de Bo­hème and am ready to face the world, richer from the in­spir­ing suc­cess story that Anna has im­parted to me. Which Anna Sui girl am I? Per­haps the rock star for this balmy Green­wich Vil­lage af­ter­noon.

Fur­ni­ture from Anthropologie is cov­ered

in black lac­quer with gold ac­cents In­spired by Gemma Tac­cogna, Anna has a pen­chant for pa­pier mâché dolls in all shapes and sizes – even as vases, as seen here

A care­fully cu­rated collection of jewel boxes and dolls gath­ered from Mex­ico

Anna’s new fra­grance, La Nuit de Bo­hème

A collection of books along the hall­way

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