The Pre-Raphaelites were Victorian England's rock stars: poets, painters, and lotus-eating romantics who exalted beauty in the face of the gray uniformity of the Industrial Revolution. Unsurprisingly, the rock stars of another century were drawn to them. In game-changing boutiques like Granny Takes a Trip, London's gilded youth bought into the languor and luxury of the Pre-Raphaelite legend. Jimmy Page did more than that—he acquired the tapestries created by Pre-Raph top gun Edward Burne-Jones. When Anna Sui saw them in the Tate's Pre-Raphaelite retrospective at the beginning of this year, she knew she'd found her inspiration for Spring 2014.

That's the way Anna rolls, layering epiphanies from her own life in her collections, such as falling in love with the way Masai men draped fabric round their bodies when she took her nieces and nephews on safari at the start of the summer. And a few months later, when she was in Indonesia, finding herself mesmerized by the crowns worn by Balinese dancers. Those elements were stirred together with the Pre-Raphaelite inspiration and a Victoriana-meets-Venice Beach Boardwalk vibe to create a typical Sui stew of upbeat, irresistible idiosyncrasy.

Knowing none of that, you might have assumed you were seeing a parade of the haute-est hippie chic. Alia Penner's backdrop was inspired by the artwork of The Fool, the psychedelic design collective in the sixties who painted Eric Clapton's guitar, John Lennon's piano, and George Harrison's Mini. True, that acid-spiked sensibility infected the collection's window dressing: Butterfly sunglasses and Erickson Beamon's butterfly jewelry, hair wreathed in flowers, and even the sunburst design on a linen hoodie felt mighty appropriate for a sun-drenched free concert in Hyde Park circa '69. But Anna is a much cannier magpie than that. Her attention to detail is inspiring—minutely researched but never so literal as to weigh her down. Today, it was clearest in her prints and fabric treatments, like the metallic jacquarded chiffons that she'd created to duplicate the mysterious iridescence of Burne-Jones' paintings. The lightness of her touch was also obvious in the way that the men on her catwalk—rare but welcome visitors to the world of Sui—sported tees with giant silver stars, more Mr. Freedom than Granny Takes a Trip. Meanwhile, the women floated by in crochets and chiffons as airy as a dream. Beauty exalted, indeed.