Meeting Zandra Rhodes and Anna Sui together, it’s clear straight away that the admiration between these two fashion legends is mutual. They collaborated on Anna Sui’s spring/summer 2016 collection. “Anna commissioned me to do a print and it was a great honour, and we would speak to each other on Skype,” says Rhodes. “Sadly, I didn’t get to see the catwalk show, but I now have the opportunity to see it in its full glory.”

The spring/summer 2016 Anna Sui dress with a Zandra Rhodes print

The World of Anna Sui, the first UK retrospective of the Detroit-born designer has just opened at The Fashion and Textile Museum, founded by Zandra Rhodes in 2003. The show includes over 100 pieces from Sui’s 25 year-long career and touches upon different recurring subjects in her collections. Punk, androgyny and hippies are all part of the colourful stories that Sui has been creating as part of her legacy. “I can’t help it – I wanted to do minimal, but it never came out,” she explains.

The two designers have much in common – particularly their love of prints and music. While Rhodes reigned the 1970s as colourful princess of punk, Anna Sui’s rock’n’roll bohemia ruled the NYC scene of the 1990s. “Those dresses, to this day I just regret I never bought them,” Sui says, remembering one of her first trips to London, back in the punk days when she fell in love with the printed Zandra Rhodes designs. But she later corrected that mistake. “When I got my first job, I splurged and bought a Zandra Rhodes dress from Henri Bendel, and I lived in poverty for the rest of the year.”

Now it’s 2017 and it still seems like it’s Sui’s time. With a blooming beauty business (her new fragrance Fantasia launched just as the retrospective opened) and her vibrant prints still selling in department stores around the world, it’s obvious that the world hasn’t had enough of her music-infused fashion. And The World of Anna Sui is a celebration of her business as well as the joyous design aesthetic – images of Linda Evangelista in her clothes in the 1990s, androgynous looks from her early 2000s collections as well as a timeline of her beauty range including perfumes, nail varnishes and make-up. It’s a showcase of her success as one of the most important female American designers of the late 20th and early 21st century.

As for Rhodes, she has never been so in demand as she is now. On the morning of the exhibition preview, she flew in from New York City where Pierpaolo Piccioli was showing Valentino’s resort 2018 collection which featured her signature lipstick prints. But she takes nothing for granted and feels as innovative as ever. “I never know where it is going to lead me,” she says, adding “even if you’ve got a customer that says they like something from a past season and they want it again, you can’t quite do that – you’ve got to keep reinventing yourself because of how the business works.”

The World of Anna Sui is on display at The Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3XF until 1 October 2017. Find out more information about the exhibition and buy the tickets at ftmlondon.org. Admission prices: £9.90 adults, £7.70 concessions, £6 students.

Text and interview by Dino Bonacic; exhibition images by Getty

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