A cinematic runway

Anna Sui on the influence of cinema and Dennis Nothdruft on fairy tales in The World Of Anna Sui

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Museum of Arts and Design Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford, London's Fashion and Textile Museum curator Dennis Nothdruft, Anna Sui, and MAD's Nanette L. Laitman Director Chris Scoates at the press preview for The World of Anna Sui
Museum of Arts and Design Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford, London's Fashion and Textile Museum curator Dennis Nothdruft, Anna Sui, and MAD's Nanette L. Laitman Director Chris Scoates at the press preview for The World of Anna Sui Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the press preview for The World Of Anna Sui, the Museum of Arts and Design Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford told me that Sofia Coppola will present a "special version" of Marie Antoinette, followed by a conversation with Anna Sui and the director. She also noted that Luchino Visconti's The Damned was an influence on Anna's Grunge collection. I passed on greetings to Anna Sui from 99 Records founder Ed Bahlman, who produced the Bush Tetras' Too Many Creeps, a song Anna used in her runway show for the Punk collection. She told me about her connection to Murray Lerner's film Festival, featuring Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan, Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Johnny Cash which will be screened during the exhibition.

Fairy Tale - Anna Sui: "The first movie? Ooh. Probably a Disney movie."
Fairy Tale - Anna Sui: "The first movie? Ooh. Probably a Disney movie." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The museum's Nanette L Laitman Director Chris Scoates shared with me that "Anna's work is all about pop culture too and music and punk. The films that Anna selected are contextualised in many ways." I also had the opportunity to talk to London's Fashion and Textile Museum curator Dennis Nothdruft where The World of Anna Sui originated, about Anna's use of mythology and her cinematic style.

In The World of Anna Sui there are Pirates, Surfers, Schoolgirls, Rockstars and Nomads mingling in sections titled Punk, Retro, Grunge and Fairy Tale. In contrast to London, the New York show (adapted by Barbara Paris Gifford) features the original backdrops, created by Sarah Oliphant, from Sui's runways.

There is, for instance, a Western landscape that makes you think of John Ford, which is here populated by mannequins dressed in the designer's own take on Americana. In the Retro section there are Busby Berkeley-inspired rehearsal shorts and floral dresses, influenced by Thirties and Forties Hollywood, while the Grunge one owes as much to Kurt Cobain as it does to Visconti's The Damned.

On the 5th floor, we are greeted by Greer Lankton's sculpture of Diana Vreeland, ready to pounce on visitors' sartorial choices, it seems. She is surrounded by Sui's other style icons, Anita Pallenberg, Jane Holzer, Norma Kamali, Betsey Johnson and Zandra Rhodes, the latter two being represented by clothes that are actually Anna Sui's own pieces, as are the Tiffany lamps and furniture.

Anna Sui on greetings from Ed Bahlman and Too Many Creeps by the Bush Tetras on 99 Records: "Oh yes, wow! Amazing. I used that song in my show one time. Tell him I say hello."
Anna Sui on greetings from Ed Bahlman and Too Many Creeps by the Bush Tetras on 99 Records: "Oh yes, wow! Amazing. I used that song in my show one time. Tell him I say hello." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: First of all I have greetings to you from Ed Bahlman of 99, who produced Too Many Creeps by the Bush Tetras.

Anna Sui: Oh yes, wow! Amazing. I used that song in my show one time.

AKT: Early on?

AS: No, not so early on. I did the Punk Collection. You'll see the punk backdrop. During that show I used that song.

AKT: He sends his greetings.

AS: Tell him I say hello!

AKT: Let's talk about movies. How important was and is cinema for your work?

AS: Very important. I love how it transports you. And I use a lot of that visual, and that idea in my shows. And depending on the different collections I've specifically used a film or I've kind of referenced it. I think that you can see that how I present on the runway is a little cinematic.

AKT: Very much so.

AS: The soundtrack with the drama of the lights and the backdrop.

Grunge - Anna Sui, inspired by The Damned and Kurt Cobain
Grunge - Anna Sui, inspired by The Damned and Kurt Cobain Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: They are going to show Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette here in the film series that accompanies the exhibition.

AS: Yes.

AKT: What other movies?

AS: My niece [Jeannie Sui Wonders] is in charge of that. There's one film that we showed a segment of, actually as a backdrop to one of my runway shows. And it's called Festival and it's the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan went electric.

I loved the visuals of it because it was very high-contrast black and white. Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. It happened my neighbour was the filmmaker [Murray Lerner] and so I asked him to do a little edit and we projected that on the runway.

AKT: Do you remember the very first movie that you saw?

AS: The first movie? Ooh. Probably a Disney movie.

AKT: There's a section on fairy tales over there.

AS: Yeah, probably a Disney movie.

A screening of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette will be held during The World Of Anna Sui exhibition
A screening of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette will be held during The World Of Anna Sui exhibition Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: The museum is having a film program to go with the exhibit. Did you have one too in London?

Dennis Nothdruft: No we didn't! We're low tech, I think, in London. Our building is slightly smaller.

AKT: Anna Sui is very cinematic.

DN: She's very cinematic. I think the thing that always strikes me with Anna's work and it has from the beginning in the Nineties when I first started looking at it, was this incredible sense of narrative. She definitely tells stories.

And the idea for the exhibition was really that she has a cast of characters that she keeps kind of referring to. So I think her vision is all-encompassing and it definitely operates on a cinematic level.

AKT: The fairy tale section is beautiful.

DN: It's amazing. Yes, and it has pieces from one of my favourite collections, which was sort of the Nordic princesses, sort of Norse mythology brought to life. I remember seeing it, just thinking, it's amazing. And particularly when she was showing that it was minimalism, deconstruction. And then you got this amazing sort of fairy tale of Iceland.

AKT: One could wish that she would make costumes for her own, completely other version of Frozen.

DN: Totally! Don't you think? It'd be so much more artistic.

The World Of Anna Sui opens on September 12 and runs through February 23, 2020
The World Of Anna Sui opens on September 12 and runs through February 23, 2020 Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: I'm thinking of The Snow Queen by Andersen and all its great strong female characters.

DN: Totally.

AKT: And some selkies and seal maidens wrapped into it too.

DN: Yes, and that's definitely the feeling that you get. When you read Norse mythology and then you saw the show, it was amazing. But I think that's how she works. She works on all sorts of really great levels.

The World Of Anna Sui opens on September 12 and runs through February 23, 2020 at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle in New York City.

Anna Sui and friends present masterworks of cinema:

December 12 at 6:30pm - The digitally remastered Festival, directed by Murray Lerner

December 19 at 6:30pm - Puzzle of a Downfall Child, starring Faye Dunaway, followed by a conversation with director Jerry Schatzberg and Anna Sui

January 9 at 6:30pm - Marie Antoinette, followed by a conversation with director Sofia Coppola and Anna Sui

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