I became aware or the fashion designer Anna Sui back in 2004, when I worked for a fragrance company. Since then I have been a big fan of her work, and to see an exhibition by her was an absolute delight. On at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London. Her collection of clothes grabs you from the moment you walk in, with four separate outfits on display in the reception area. Which were all wonderfully detailed in their construction.
Anna’s story begins in Detroit, she decided she wanted to become a fashion designer at the age of four. Growing up she would watch her mother for hours sewing, and would collect the fabric scraps to clothe her Barbie dolls and her brothers’ army action figures. Through this process, Sui learned the basics of making clothing and would soon put together her own outfits. She would read articles from Life Magazine, particularly about Mia Fonssagrives-Solow who graduated from Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and then moved to Paris. Anna credits this article as being the pivotal moment in her youth, which gave her clear direction on her future goals. She eventually moved to New York and attended Parsons. She has redefined American fashion since her first runway show in 1991 and her pivotal grunge collection in 1993. Now she has more than 300 Anna Sui stores in 35 countries.
She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion history and this exhibition shows her dedication to the creative process. Some of her inspirations for her work are on display from magazines, rock-n-roll posters and clothing eras that have influenced her.
In the main space all the mannequins are elevated on red podiums. The clothing’s strong themes (‘archetypes’), are grouped in to nine themes, which have been recurrent in her 30-years career – Americana, Androgyny, Fairy Tale, Victorian, Grunge, Nomad, Mod, Punk, Rockstar & Hippie, Retro, Schoolgirl and Surfer.
Curator Dennis Nothdruft organised Anna’s looks thematically rather than chronologically. Which draws the visitors’ attention to the threads running through each individual outfit, and the thread running through the exhibition – Printed textiles, layering, power pattern clashes and colours.
There are more than 125 full looks, select cosmetics, collaborative projects, mood boards, photographs and cultural ephemera on display. I found her first career retrospective a wonderful insight into her world, extremely enjoyable and fun.
Fashion and Textile Museum
83 Bermondsey St, London, SE1 3XF
26 May 17 – 01 Oct 17, Closed Mondays, Late opening Thursday (8pm)
£6 – £9.90