Let’s not mince words: Anna Sui’s show yesterday was an absolute delight. In a season in which relaxed, understated ease and bold political proclamations are becoming the norm, Sui continued to do what she does best, serving up a richly diverse visual feast on the catwalk. Her inspiration this time around began with a biography of Elsa Schiaparelli, whose influence was felt in trompe l’oeil knits and a shocking pink faux fur. Simultaneously, the designer became immersed in the work of interior designer Elsie de Wolfe, who designed the post-show party for Schiaparelli’s 1938 Circus collection, as well as a mirrored home for Countess Dorothy di Frasso in Beverly Hills (also home to Marlene Dietrich for many years). Sui was also watching the ’40s film Blithe Spirit, which led her to imbue many pieces with an acid-y phosphorescence meant to mirror the pallor of star Kay Hammond. Truthfully, it doesn’t do a critic well to try to neatly connect the dots between Sui’s inspirations and her clothing—the way she mashes up her many references is a singular skill that seems innate and above logical explanation.
But if I might get back to Schiap for a minute—Sui and Schiap are not too dissimilar. They’re both deeply creative, able to make complicated design concepts seem easy as pie, and run with a crowd of artists who define the decades they live in. That last bit is where the real spirit of this collection came through. These are looks intended for a glamorous night, partying after dark with the style-setters of the world. For Schiap, that meant café society events with Dalí, Cocteau, and the Duchess of Windsor; for Sui, it’s Meisel, Jacobs, Enninful, and Naomi Campbell. Green iridescence was a major theme, adding a lovely glimmer to emerald and gold dresses and giving Janice Alida’s deep eggplant number a witchy sheen. Furs, both faux and real, were another big story on the catwalk, with many models draping them over their shoulders like bygone screen sirens. Moody florals and pagoda prints gave Sui’s many looks dimension—and will be bait for the shoppers who love her line—as did the removable ruffs and cuffs styled with most looks. Some of the best accessories were the thick belts cinched around models’ waists, making sure that, in Sui’s mélange of colors and prints, the girls could still retain a slinky shape. It will also be hard to wait until mid-summer to buy a velvet jacket with Schiap-like beading, but the loyal will happily pass the time.
What’s more is that, perhaps as a response to the recent underwhelming nature of New York Fashion Week interest in Sui seems to only be growing. This reviewer was positively crammed into her seat, spotting more people in attendance than ever before. It’s worth noting that while other American designers are decamping overseas or shifting to more exclusive presentations, Sui has never failed to stage a fantastical runway show on the penultimate day of New York Fashion Week. She’s also been a champion for the Garment District, raised money for the Bowery Mission, and made concerted efforts to help the victims of global tragedies—which is to say that she’s a kind person, who, it was agreed upon in a car after the show with other journalists, happens to also be one of the nicest people in fashion. In May, an exhibition of her decades-spanning career will bow at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum; around the same time, Abrams’s is releasing a companion book. Pray that it brings a Sui renaissance stateside. She really is one of our best.