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Anna Sui interview: ‘If you have focus, you can defy everything’

The New York-based designer, famed for her bohemian rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, tells Time Out about her new Minnie Mouse-inspired range for Asos

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 “Asos.com”. 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 love that they distribute throughout Europe with free shipping.'

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 have you managed 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 makeup 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.'

When you are in London what inspires you?
'One of the things that has been going on for always is the street style. You just have to spend a morning at Portobello or Brick Lane. Then you have great shops like Dover Street Market. I love all the tradition too. I love going to Fortnum and Mason and the V&A. Earlier this year I was here with my mom and I took her to Buckingham Palace. They had a huge tent of souvenirs and it was like supermarket sweep!'

Your greatest extravagances?
'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 – Christie's hadn’t labelled it properly so no-one took any interest but I recognised it straight away.'

What’s the difference between London and New York style?
'More and more it’s starting to blend. A lot of the vintage here is American. A lot the style here is influenced by that Brooklyn look – a lot of the guys here have beards and the men are so well put together. You find yourself just staring…'

If you had just $10 what would you spend it on?
'A nail polish or a Denman hair brush. I love Denman hair brushes! Actually, I’d buy a small box of marrons glacés from Fauchon for my mother.'

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 the fall 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?”'

Who 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.'

Which do you consider London's most stylish decade?
'I’m always very inspired by English history, fashion and music. My favourite period of all is London’s Swinging Sixties.'

What is good and bad about shopping in London?
'There is amazing design talent in London. Designers like Christopher Kane, Preen and Nicholas Kirkwood are really bringing new life to London as a fashion capital. I don’t love that the exchange rate is not great right now – it means I can’t shop as much!'

What has been your biggest fashion disaster?
'I permed my hair once – it was a huge mistake!'

Anna Sui Cosmetics and Fragrances available at Asos.com

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