24 hours with Anna Sui
The New York-based fashion designer injects the psychedelic 70s and boudoir-inspired aesthetics into her dynamic and feminine collections. The self-professed workaholic, 49, talks to Carmen Li about de-stressing with exercise, flowers and friends.
I have always wanted to be a fashion designer - I knew when I was really young. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit but I consider New York to be home because I have lived there for more than 15 years. New York City has got lots to offer: culture, exhibitions and parties. I moved there to study fashion at Parsons School of Design, but I left after two years because I wanted hands-on experience. I juggled various jobs after leaving school: I worked as a stylist on fashion shoots for my friend, photographer Steven Meisel, and designed sportswear for a few junior fashion companies. In 1991, I launched my own label and have since devoted my time to creating biannual collections.
I would not consider moving - unless I marry a rich rock star and then I'd move to London. I'm a workaholic. I get up at about 6am. I consider myself pretty low maintenance and it doesn't take me long to get ready. I dress up everyday because I am not a very casual person and the way I dress is reflective of my mood. For me, dressing up is not about comfort: I wear a tonne of jewellery and glitter make-up to work sometimes. My label currently has four fragrances and I always wear my latest scent.
I get to my office on 39th Street, on the west side, at about 8am before my staff arrives at about 9am. You feel like you have entered the 'Anna Sui World' as soon as you step out of the elevator. The place has Tiffany lamps, stained-glass furnishings, Victorian-inspired doors and make-up and perfume ads on the walls.
I try to sort out my mail in the morning, attend to chores and finish the paperwork before lunch. Lunch is usually around 12 or 12.30pm: I rarely go out to eat and prefer ordering in unless it's a business thing. I still design most of my collections and I have three assistant designers who work with me. I usually find inspiration from visiting flea markets: I love all things vintage and I go to the markets every Sunday - it's like going to church for me.
When people look at my clothes, they think of me as an extrovert because the girls always enjoy themselves so much on the runway and my designs are fun and vibrant. In reality though, I don't enjoy being the centre of attention. Fashion is a medium for me to express my feelings, and the reason I have such a penchant for the 60s and 70s is because I grew up during that time. We had a lot of fashion boutiques and malls in Detroit then but we didn't have cool shops like Biba and labels like Ossie Clark and Mary Quant, and although we could get American fashion magazines we couldn't get our hands on the cool English magazines. In a way, I think I'm trying to over-compensate for what I missed back in the day.
I love creating clothes and fabrics inspire me a lot. There are times when I see a gorgeous piece of fabric and I can see the clothes already. I try to add a sprinkle of menswear to my womenswear collections because I get requests from friends to design menswear pieces. I try to imagine what the boyfriend of the Anna Sui girl would wear. It's always fun to throw in some menswear because it gives the show sex appeal - and it's great fun doing the castings.
My latest autumn/winter collection was inspired by an exhibition I saw in Philadelphia of the works of 1930s Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli. It reminded me of the glamorous world and I wanted to pay homage to the 30s and 40s, focusing on the sartorial details and thinking of the world that [French fashion muse, model and designer] Loulou de la Falais lived in.
Work ends at about 6.30pm or 7pm, when I go to my personal trainer to do a combination of weights and cardio training, I also go swimming from time to time. The fashion industry can be stressful and exercising is my way of unwinding. After seeing my trainer, I usually eat dinner with friends. My favourite restaurant these days is Matsuri, a stylish Japanese restaurant on West 16th Street and Ninth Avenue. The chef, Tadashi Ono, makes great sushi and I always run into people I know there and it's great.
After dinner I go home and I usually go to sleep around midnight. My weekdays are pretty much all about work and it's quite mellow. I work on Saturdays, and when I'm not working I go to the flower market to buy lavender tea roses for my rooms. I love the smell of tea roses - well, I love flowers in general. It's tulip season now, and soon there will be some lovely peonies.
I'm not a party person because I don't like going to places that are too crowded. I will attend events and exhibitions
but I don't party for the sake of partying. When I do go out though, I enjoy drinking white wine. I have a group of friends that I go out with to watch movies, visit museums and sometimes I invite them over. I order in lunch and we just chat and catch up. I travel for about 30 per cent of the year
so I don't have any pets.
Future projects? I've got a lingerie label that is only available in Japan and hopefully it will be available in Hong Kong soon. We're thinking of opening a boutique here and one in China this year and I'd like to launch a homeware range some day.