Interview: Anna Sui

Taking inspiration from one of the world's most loved cartoon characters, the New York-based designer has just launched an ultra-covetable range of perfume and cosmetics on Maggie Davis meets fashion’s gold dust woman

How did the Asos collaboration come about?
I discovered Asos about two years ago. I saw these incredible beaded sandals in a magazine and it just said ''. So I went on that website and I was like, Oh my God, this is like a whole other world. I was always very excited about that. I think that cosmetics and fragrance can reach an audience much further than my fashion. Not everyone has the budget to buy an Anna Sui dress but you get the same excitement, the same thrill from a tube of lipstick or a nail polish and that’s why we spend so much time on packaging, on making a product that you just can’t resist. I don’t want people to throw away the packaging because the boxes are so pretty.’

How did Minnie Mouse inspire the collection?
Minnie Mouse has always been one of my style icons. I have this dream that one day I’m going to do this collection inspired by the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson) and Minnie Mouse – combining the two. For me there is something similar; the bow, the ribbon in the hair, the ’30s – that same influence. We drew from all the Minnie Mouse icons and we mixed them with the Anna Sui icons – really girly styling. Even the lipsticks are moulded in a Minnie Mouse shape!

Is it true that you wanted to be a fashion designer at the age of four?
That is so true! I went to be a flower girl at my aunt and uncle’s wedding in New York when I was four years old. Just looking around I knew that I wanted to be part of this. It took me a few years to work out what that was. I thought fashion design was going to be a really glamorous job – draping clothes over beautiful women. I didn’t know about all that hard work. I thought going to Parsons (School of Design) was the secret formula. That’s why I always sign 'live your dream'. If you have that focus, you can defy everything.

Your first show in 1991 was a pretty big deal wasn’t it?
Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, still good friends to this day, modelled in it. Back then a supermodel walking down the catwalk had real impact. It made a show. Those girls – Naomi, Christy, Linda, Kate – had real presence and personality. They still do.

Anna Sui is sold in over 50 countries globally but it still feels quite niche. How do you manage that?
I think one of the things about Anna Sui is it is such a recognisable brand. Part of my secret was the way I designed my store with the black lacquer furniture, the purple walls and red floors, and the mix of flea market and Victoriana. The packaging all looked like that. It looked like it came from the same world. You can still get the same fantasy from the make-up packaging. Everything, from the catwalk collection to the lipsticks, is from the same world and I think that is how we are able to meet so many different customers. The Anna Sui customer isn’t a specific age, she is a spirit. We have several generations of customer now – we see mothers and daughters buying the product together. My mom wears my collection, my nieces wear my collection.

Your greatest extravaganzas?
I love antique jewellery, especially Victorian jewellery, so I often go to Gray’s Inn Antique Market. One of the vendors there ( has an online shop and every Sunday morning you get a newsletter with all the new stock. It’s a very guilty pleasure, you can spend a lot of money that way. I got these earrings from there – they are Scottish agates and they are Victorian.  

What do you scrimp on?
Everything! I’m very cost conscious. Even when I splurge, I try to stay level-headed. I think about transportation or pricing for production and every day I get a $5 lunch from around the corner. It’s good to be frugal – I get that from my father.  

What’s your favourite shop in the world?
There’s a beautiful shop in Venice called Attilio Codognato from the 1880s – the grandson is still running it. It’s this dream shop – you walk past the window and think, Did I just see that? They do this incredible skull jewellery. When Elizabeth Taylor did the Venice Film Festival, she got this beautiful gift which was a snake bracelet from Richard Burton. I ended up buying it at auction – Christies hadn’t labelled it properly so no-one took any interest but I recognised it straight away.

What item do you get the most wear out of?
My Frye motorcycle boots. I love them and wear them almost all year long. They are perfect in the winter but also look great with dresses and skirts in autumn and spring. I wear them out. Now that my nieces are teenagers they are like, 'Aunty Anna, can I have those boots when you are done with them?'

How do you consider to be really stylish?
My friend Anita Pallenberg. She is the ultimate rock ’n' roll woman. Head-to-toe she looks incredible. She just knows her look. You look at older pictures of her and she dresses the same. She still has a certain style.

What is your best beauty tip?
Drink lots of water! My own beauty routine is relatively simple, but I am religious about moisturising. I don’t think there are specific rules when it comes to beauty routines – just try to find products that suit you and make you feel beautiful.

What has been your biggest fashion disaster?
‘A permed my hair once – it was a huge mistake!’

Anna Sui Cosmetics and Fragrances available at

Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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