Anna Sui is celebrating the 20th birthday of her business and, as the new tome that marks the milestone shows, she has been utterly true to her vision from day one. Her collection today included the baby doll dresses, the handkerchief-hemmed skirts, and the print mixes that have always been part of her work. But the heart of the issue was, as always, Sui's ability to build an extraordinary mythology around her story for the season.
She cited Days of Heaven, the Terrence Malick movie from 1978 that is one of her favorites. From it, she extrapolated a dusty, sun-faded world of pioneer women, which led her on to Joni Mitchell and the girls of Laurel Canyon in late-sixties L.A. Sui is in love with the artisanal, so there was a strong feel for the human touch in hand-crocheted sweaters, waistcoats crafted from granny squares, and cross-stitch embroidery. But these solid, homespun pieces were paired with floaty chiffons and antique lace. "I've always loved Anna's girls, because they look so dreamy," said Bruce Weber in the front row.
True enough: It was the one time during fashion week when the 16-year-old models who have swarmed the catwalk actually looked their age—and all the prettier for it. Sui momentarily cut the sweetness with a group of vampish black outfits, the kind you'd imagine Joni and her girlfriends finding in vintage clothing stores in Hollywood way back when. Then she ended the show with a group from her bridal range: Lily Donaldson in linen-toned tulle patterned in gold beads, her head wreathed in gold leaves and wheat sheaves. No lovelier way for the designer to close the book on her first two decades in business.