Anna Sui does not do trends. Most profiles of the independent designer, who’s cut a path against the grain of mainstream fashion for 30 years, will include the phrase sui generis. Yes, it’s a clever pun and a statement of Sui’s unflinching spirit, but for Spring 2019, she offered something more than just the unique: the universal.
There’s no pun for that, just the reality of Sui’s most approachable, relatable, necessary collection to date. She was inspired, as always, by a niche reference that then gave birth to millions more. The ground zero in this case was Kismet, the 1955 movie with an epic grand bazaar scene. Within Spring Studios, Sui erected her own grand bazaar in the center of the runway tonight, with her favorite makers lined up in a rich tableau set designed by Jerry Schwartz. Erickson Beamon was set up with its golden earrings beside The Falls’ beaded vintage wares. There were discharged dyed shirts from Brass Arrow and sexy, ’70s-esque leather pieces from South Paradiso leather—all for sale. When the show started, models entered the space from every end, Gigi, Bella, Taylor, and Kiki thumbing Dailola’s indigo shibori dyed scarves and Nomad Vintage’s Indian caftans before taking proper runway turns.
But a Anna Sui show is never just one thing. The shopping bazaar led Sui to explore ideas of transporting fantasies, because wouldn’t you rather be anywhere but here? So there were caftans worn with gem-laden shell jewelry by Karen Erickson that evoked the haute leisure of Shangri-La or Marianne Faithfull’s Shell Cottage. There were glinting separates in iridescent palettes that turned models into mermaids. Soo Joo Park swished by in a ’40s-shaped pale blue frock with ombré fringe; Rianne Van Rompaey strutted in a glam rock brocade suit and Hawaiian-Print shirtdress; and Lexi Boling passed by wearing a sporty nylon jumpsuit in a forest green tropical motif. The mishmash effect played out expertly—now is a magpie-like moment where board shorts need bucket hats that need fanny packs that need socks that need to be paired with snake-print Teva sandals. Dilone’s shimmering green gown with a thigh high slit, Sui said, was something a woman in her office wanted to wear while walking her dog and doing her errands, dressing down be damned.
This sort of irony, though, is not Sui’s intention nor should it be the only takeaway from her show. Instead, with these myriad references, Sui proved that a fringed shirt-wearing cowgirl is not so different from a bathing bombshell beauty or a sequin-laden showgirl. Here’s the universality of her message. We all love a fantasy and we all have a reality—and on the runway tonight both were cut, literally, from the same cloth. Let’s call it a Suitopia.