Anna Sui talks fashion, success at Michigan Theater

The interview of Anna Sui (right) was conducted by another designer, Paulina Petkoski (left).

Thursday Oct. 8, American fashion designer, Anna Sui, spoke at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. This presentation was part of the University of Michigan’s Penny Stamps Speaker Series, hosted by Stamps School of Art and Design.

The format of the presentation was conversational and the staged interview was conducted by another native Detroiter and designer, Paulina Petkoski. Following the interview, the audience was able to engage in a Q&A session and Sui even stuck around to give a few autographs.

Many of Eastern Michigan University’s Apparel and Textile Merchandising students attended in order to earn extra credit and get first hand advice from the fashion expert.

“It was a surreal experience to get to hear from someone who’s such a force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry, and the best part about it is she's from where I'm from,” said Cherub Thomas, an ATM major at EMU.

Sui is from the suburbs of Detroit, but she left Michigan to attended college at Parsons School of Design in New York. After two years at Parsons, she styled with her good friend, Steven Meisel, who is known today as a very famous fashion photographer.

“I had done some research about design school… I thought that was the key – I had to move to New York and go to Parsons,” Sui said. “And I think Steven has opened a lot of doors for me as well.”

Sui also designed for several sportswear companies before launching her first collection in 1980. She actually lost one of her jobs due to the success of her first independent clothing collection.

“My boss told me I had to stop and I was like, I can’t stop, I have to ship my orders! And I got fired,” she said.

In 2009, she was honored with the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award along with many other awards and honors. She has done a variety of brand collaborations with companies such as TargetR, Tumi, Hush Puppies, Victoria’s Secret and Coach.

“I especially liked how she said you can’t call this industry cut throat,” said Blake Boyle, another ATM major at EMU. “You just have to get out there and do it and get out of that mindset.”

Her clothes are known for mixing vintage styles with current cultural trends and inspirations. Sui’s flagship store is located on Greene Street in Soho, New York City.

“You can never tell if it’s for a good girl or a bad girl,” Sui said in regards to her clothing designs. “I think I have the best job in the world because I get to use anything that I’m obsessed with.”

She has also launched cosmetics, fragrance, shoe and accessory licenses in addition to her clothing.

“Not everyone can afford an Anna Sui dress and it doesn’t fit into everyone’s lifestyle,” she said. “But, they can get that same excitement from a nail polish or a tube of lipstick.”

Today Sui has over 50 boutiques in eight countries and her collections are sold in 300 stores in over 30 countries. Her most recent collection debuted this September at New York Fashion Week. The spring 2016 ready-to-wear collection was a reflection of her recent getaway to Tahiti and Honolulu.

“None of my business was ever planned,” said Sui. “It was just knowing how to react.”

Both Sui’s and Petoski’s designs are currently on display at the Detroit Historical Museum as part of the Booth-Wilkinson Gallery exhibit, “Fashion D.Fined: The Past, Present and Future of Detroit Fashion.” You can learn more about Sui and her products at

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