Rebel Girl

Getting to know what inspires metro Detroit native and fashion designer Anna Sui

She is everything you’d want her to be. The Anna Sui brand exudes an imaginative, spunky, rebellious vibe, with vintage, from another era silhouettes, while also maintaining a bohemian-esque, effortless, “I just threw this on,” feel. Sui is proud to claim Detroit her hometown, and without a single note of pretentiousness, the rock ’n’ roll loving fashion designer believes Detroit is, if not already, going to be a new mecca for the arts. Selling her collections in more than 30 countries and in the business for three decades now, Sui credits her originality on her inquisitive, curious nature to learn more about whatever it is she is most passionate about at the moment. Hour Detroit spoke with the designer after she had just returned from Spain, while she was planning for this month’s New York Fashion Week. Nothing had been designed yet for her Fall/Winter ’15 collection, but she was picking out fabrics and seemed confident the collection would come together for what she called “a new kind of journey.”

Q: What was it like growing up in metro Detroit?

A: I think I experienced Detroit at the best time ever. I wasn’t really old enough to go the Grande Ballroom and places like that, but all the rock bands would hold outdoor concerts, so I would go and see them in like Hines Park and Ann Arbor. That was at the peak of that great time in rock ’n’ roll when a lot of the bands did pass through Detroit, and I would go to Cobo Hall and see them, during the whole British invasion time.

Q: Have you made it back to Detroit recently?

A: I usually go every other month almost because my mom still lives there, and I have a brother that still lives there. My parents live on a lake so that’s really nice, and then I love going to Ferndale and Royal Oak and going to the vintage stores. There’s a great vintage store in Royal Oak that has incredible furniture and jewelry, Del Giudice. Also twice a year there’s a flea market in Southfield at the school, and I love going to that. … Last time I was home we went to Highland, a great little town with a lot of antique stores, and I saw some incredible stuff there.

Q: Detroit’s arts scene is noticeably thriving. What are your thoughts on how art can shape a city?

A: I think it’s a unique time because of the state of the economy in both Detroit and New York. New York real estate is so expensive that we don’t have the underground sort of feeling that we used to have. It’s not possible for young creative people just starting out to really live here unless they live somewhere farther out. Whereas Detroit has the affordable living, so it’s kind of a mecca for artists right now because they can get the most fantastic places to live and create. I think it kind of flipped where everyone used to come to New York to become an artist or [become] someone famous, and now I think the whole scene is changing, so it should be really interesting to see what actually emerges out of Detroit in the next, let’s say 10 years.

“Detroit (is) kind of a mecca for artists right now because they can get the most fantastic places to live and create.”

Q: What are you currently inspired by and where have you traveled most recently?

A: I think I have the best job in the world because I can use what it is that I’m excited about, and what I’m obsessing about, and what it is I want to learn more about. The thing I like to do best is learning more about something, and right now I’m kind of obsessing about the British invasion period and some of the boutiques in London.

I just got back from Spain and it has all that incredible culture of the matadors, and also I went to see the paintings of Joaquín Sorolla, and he had traveled throughout Spain in the early 1900s and painted all the regional dress. From his house you can tell how much he loved Spain and color; he had collections of ceramics from everywhere, and he actually collected a lot of the costumes in the museums at both the Hispanic Society of America, and the new Costume Museum in Madrid. Going to the Museo Nacional del Prado, seeing works by Velázquez and Goya, they were the masters, and so many artists were influenced by them. There’s so much depth in their paintings, they’re haunting, you think about them a lot, and so I don’t know how it’s all going to mix into the collection because I haven’t made any clothes yet … but these are the things I’m obsessing about right now.

Q: What’s the most surprising fashion trend that came back?

A: I think it’s at that point where you can never say never because everything that was wrong became right. I think platform shoes were kind of a surprise because I remember wearing platform shoes the first time around and falling all the time. People got all excited about them again, but they’re learning the dangers of them (laughs), and now they are so high with those skinny heels, and that to me seems so brave. I’m jealous when I see the girls wearing those.

Q: If you could be from any decade would you go back in time?

A: I wish I was from an earlier period where I could’ve gone to the Grande Ballroom, and I could’ve gone to the Fillmore and to see the Beatles play live, and the Rolling Stones during their heyday. I think that’s why rock ’n’ roll is such a recurring theme in what I do, but I do love the ’20s, and I do love the Victorian times, so it just goes through different waves. And I love researching each time and discovering something new.

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