In Style (October '02)

It's Only Rock & Roll;
...but she likes it. Designer Anna Sui, who has been hitting concerts and clubs since the seventies, is the ultimate fan, creating clothing for--and inspired by--the rockers she knows and loves. Here she gets amped about her favorite moments in rock-style history

Anna Sui

MADONNA (1990)

"In the fall of 1990 I went to Paris for the first time to see the fashion shows with [photographer] Steven Meisel and, as a surprise, got to go to the Jean Paul Gaultier show with Madonna. When we picked her up she had a coat on, but she took it off at the show and said, 'Anna, look!' She was wearing my baby-doll dress! I'd been doing them since the eighties. Madonna's [at right] was black chiffon that tented but had a fitted lining; it was low cut in the back, with a bow. Herb Ritts took pictures of her after the show. She said, 'Oh, Anna, let me borrow your bracelet'--it's in the photo. Later, I decided that if she liked my clothes, then maybe I was OK. That gave me the confidence to do my first runway show, in 1991."


"I heard that when the Rolling Stones got started, they based their look on singer Francoise Hardy. To them the French pop star was the epitome of beauty. She was kind of androgynous--she had that boyish thing yet was such a beautiful woman. She used to wear boatneck T-shirts, and Brian Jones, one of the original Stones, wore them then too. She was considered one of the ye-ye girls. That was the name given to this new group of stylish young singers who were performing a particular kind of bubblegummy pop in France at the time. Francoise's music, though, was more moody and folksy than the others'. She also modeled and acted, and on film she jumps out because she's so modern-looking. When most women had the big hairdos and the eyeliner, here was this boyish beauty. I love that she has vinyl on here."


"Joan epitomized the bohemian style: the long, straight hair, shift dresses with boots, and no make-up. She had the look of the moment--like the ideal of a college girl or a girl who lived in Greenwich Village. She sang protest songs, and with this look she was also protesting what was going on with fashion at the time: Women had teased hair and wore girdles, pointy bras and false eyelashes. I like this photo because Joan is wearing such a cool Marimekko dress. I love the fit, and this is designer Annika Rimala's print. This photo also captures Joan and Dylan at the height of their love affair, when they were the two coolest people on the planet."

NICO (1965)

"Nico had a style that was kind of like Francoise Hardy's: the long hair, a lot of pantsuits. And very stark. She was often in all white or all black--a Courreges style. I think [the German singer] was avant-garde because everyone else was into wild prints and paisleys then. She had this air of mystery about her, and she was so striking: tall with blond hair and high cheekbones. Anita Pallenberg [the stylish former girl- friend of Keith Richards] told me that Nico was her idol."

CHER (1967)

"No one had ever seen anyone like Cher--she was her own creation. She proved that you didn't have to be a blue-eyed, blond, all-American type to be beautiful. I love her fur coat. This was the time when 'fun furs' took off; this is very mod and geometric. And nobody ever looked better in jeans. Cher's body was made for halters and tight jeans. She enjoyed baring her body, especially her perfect stomach. Now Jennifer Lopez is doing with her body what Cher did with hers. They both know their good points."


"Joni Mitchell is the ultimate folk chick, a free spirit, the kind of girl that groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young wrote about and dated. One of her big loves was Graham Nash. She has a hippie, kind of artsy look, a mix of things really, of peasant looks and prairie and Mexican elements. And she's totally natural, really comfortable, which again was kind of a new thing then. With that long blond hair, she's the epitome of the California girl, though she was born in Canada."


"I love Mick Jagger in this dress. It wasn't even his girlfriend Marianne Faithfull's; it was made for him. Exploring androgyny was a form of rebellion against the established image of what a man should be. Mick wore the dress to this Hyde Park concert dedicated to his bandmate Brian Jones. Jones had just died, and Jagger recited Shelley's Adonais, which is a poem about Keats dying young. This dress resembled the shirts the Romantic poets would've worn. Mick has done so many looks. But to this day, the way he was in the 1970 film Performance--the black hair, the smudgy eye makeup--is the way a rocker wants to look."


"This is the year Cindy Birdsong replaced Florence Ballard. But during the whole time the Supremes were popular, it was always about their hair. They had great bouffants. And great makeup. They dressed alike, but sometimes they all wore something a little different, based on their personalities. It's the same formula that girl groups still use--TLC, Destiny's Child. I think the Supremes loved clothes; you can see it with Diana Ross, who was always a total style icon, right into the seventies with her movie Lady Sings the Blues. She played Billie Holiday in that film, and Billie always wore a big gardenia in her hair. So when Diana wore her hair slicked back with a big flower, people started wearing that look."


"Her big hit was Dylan's 'This Wheel's on Fire,' which is now the theme song to [the BBC series] Absolutely Fabulous. That's probably the only song I know of hers, but I was fascinated with the way she looked. She was so modern--people were really inspired by her short hair. Her makeup was part of her persona. She did it herself. That wasn't a makeup artist's work. She's all eyes; her lips look like they have foundation on them. I love this exaggerated eye. It's like when people doodle--they often draw big eyes."


"Anita was a model and actress --a cult figure in the movies. She and Keith were the ultimate rock and roll couple, and I think this picture epitomizes their eclectic style. I like the boldness of her striped dress. In some ways it looks like she's a jailbird. It's that good girl/bad girl dichotomy that I love. And Keith has that ethnic jacket; it's Indian, I think, and he's got on a Moroccan necklace. Anita introduced the world to unisex clothing. She liked to wear boys' clothes, and a lot of what Keith wore was hers, like the ruffled shirts. To this day she has truly great style. She's a muse to many fashion designers, including Bella Freud, Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood. She's an inspiration to me too, and she has become a really good friend. One of my favorite things to do is to see what's new in her closet."


"This is one of my favorite pictures of her. She was very innocent-looking during this period, and people traded on the fact that she'd had a convent education. This is how every girl wanted to look, like a dollybird with those bangs and the big eyes and the austere, mod dresses with the crocheted collar and cuffs. It was very Mary Quant; Jane Asher, who was dating Paul McCartney then, looked the same way. In this country Marianne's song 'As Tears Go By' was kind of a hit. But because she was going out with Mick Jagger she became more famous. Later, she had her problems, and people thought she'd self-destructed. But in the late seventies she resurrected herself with Broken English, which put her right back on the charts. She's so charismatic. I think her voice keeps getting better. Listen to her latest album, Kissin' Time--her voice is amazing. When she performs she tells stories between songs, and it's fascinating. She's a woman who has really lived."


"The colors in this picture are so psychedelic--look at the gypsy-caravan car! Janis's look was very gypsy. She always had these pants outfits and beautiful shoes, like the ones she wears here. They look like gold and they have a tiny heel. Her jewelry was amazing too: beads, bangles, rings, a lot of necklaces, a lot of color. And she was famous for wearing feathers in her hair. Those sleeves were the fashion then, with the puffiness and the extra drape. And her crocheted vest is so great. I like handcrafted clothes. Especially now, when everything is so computerized and desensitized, I love knowing that somebody sat there and made it."


"To me it was all happening in London during this period, with [hip boutiques] Biba and Granny Takes a Trip and [designer] Ossie Clark. When I ask women who were in London then who they think was the sexiest guy on the scene, they all say Jimi Hendrix. I think that was because of his sensitivity and intelligence. And then look at his style: I love the idea of accumulating different patterns and cultures and then incorporating them into your look. There are four or five things going on here--there's Chinese, African, Afghan, Japanese--it's a whole combination of cultures. This is when ethnic looks started getting mixed into fashion. Like when the Beatles went to meet the Maharishi and came back with all the Indian things, and the markets were flooded with Indian-style clothes. It was the beginning of globalization in fashion."


"I love this photo from his Ziggy Stardust period. He was such a genius for finding [designer] Kansai Yamamoto, who actually became famous after David Bowie started wearing his clothes. No one had ever seen anyone like Bowie: He looked like he came from another planet. He was skinnier than anyone. And that colored hair--no one had dyed their hair bright red at that point. I think he started that trend. Now it's so common to see high school kids dressed completely normally, but they have green hair or purple hair. I think a lot of his glitter and campiness is borrowed from drag queens, and he was very inspired by Andy Warhol."


"They're wearing Vivienne Westwood clothes. The graphics, the print T-shirts, the stringy sweaters and the bondage bits--all this fetish stuff is mixed in with rock and roll. Vivienne and Malcolm McLaren came up with the look. They had a clothing store called Sex, and before they did this punk thing they had a very fetish image. Because of the Sex Pistols, spiky hair and leather jeans became popular. And the jewelry too. How cool is the necklace on Sid Vicious [left]? You see so many rockers wearing padlocks now, but Sid started it. No one wore cuffs or padlocks before this."


"Both their sound and their look were totally revolutionary. The Dolls were rebelling against everything. They were a glam rock band, but every punk band idolized them. The colors they're wearing--black, white and red--the bold stripes, the tight pants and little jackets are really rock and roll, but then they mixed in glam elements such as the colors pink and blue and the white shoes. And look at the in-your-face androgyny, like the guy wearing the halter [singer David Johansen]. Maybe that top is his girlfriend Cyrinda Foxe's [of David Bowie's 'The Jean Genie' video]. They're also all in platform boots. They used to get such amazing, custom-made cast-plastic shoes.


"When I knew Siouxsie she wore only black and white. I love the stripes and the cool punk jewelry and the great Julie Driscoll-ish eye makeup. The mix of vertical and horizontal stripes is an interesting concept: very op art. It also looks like Russian constructivist art, which was influencing a lot of people then. Siouxsie was quite beautiful, and she was one of the most stylish punk girls around. She would actually go out in vinyl lingerie."


"Debbie was so beautiful, and she had that blond, blond hair. She was like the Marilyn Monroe of that time. Her look was really influential. A lot of people dyed their hair platinum blond because of her. She wore all these great little dresses that Stephen Sprouse made for her. Here she's got on a glittery mini over pants, which is a look that seems to be getting popular again. Also, the pants are tucked into the boots. That was very much a rock and roll look--to show off the boots."


"Kurt was grunge, but he had a playful glam side too, with the leopard coat and white sunglasses. He had platinum hair, and he played with eye makeup. He had such strong charisma that it jumps out of every photo. His music was a rebellion [against overproduced rock]--it was so raw. And kids really responded to it and to the look of the grunge rockers. I mean, how many people wore plaid shirts? Everybody."


"She was the fairy or the witch--you really couldn't tell. In the 'Gypsy' video, she wanders through the bedroom in these filmy clothes, and everything's sort of draped, and there are flowers everywhere. I think that's one image she had, but then she would also wear the same kinds of things but all in black. It's the duality that I liked. She must love fairy tales, but she's also into the mystical. She definitely popularized flowing chiffon dresses and scarves--that's very Stevie Nicks to me--and inspired a kind of new age look."


"She's unique. This was right at the height of grunge, and she wore a lot of these baby-doll dresses. She had a great collection. They were vintage from the sixties, seventies, some even from the thirties and forties. This is around the time people started really getting interested in buying vintage again, so she was kind of a pioneer. She's got a startling look: the innocent dress and tiara--every little girl's fantasy--with the more severe white hair, black eye makeup and red, red lips."


"Gwen has a really strong image. I love that cartoon quality, with the graphics and white hair and lots of makeup. Here the black-and-white graffiti print reminds me of the pop elements that the New York Dolls and Siouxsie Sioux had, and the tie adds androgyny to her look. She looks pop art to me, the way I think Kelly Osbourne looks pop art: They look like they came from the same tribe or something. I see Gwen's look downtown in New York, not as much as I used to, but I do see it. I think she loves to dress up. And she puts her touch on everything, like little rhinestones on her bra and rhinestones around her eyes. She's a great style icon--you have a lot of visual things to hang on to here."


"I just think she's adorable. She's so sixties in this picture. You see touches of Edie Sedgwick with the eye makeup and one-sided hair. She also had an Andy Warhol toupee thing going on with her two-tone color. And then there's something punk about her: the deconstructed jacket. I still love punk. People will call me and I'll have the Clash blaring. And they're like, 'Oh, a little punk rock in the morning, Anna?'"


"I think she looks like the ultimate rock chick, with the big eyes and eye makeup, red hair and white skin. She loves to play with fashion, and her choices are always interesting. Like here, where she combines the rock and roll T-shirt with the little Mary Quant-style schoolgirl skirt. I like the irony of that. Also, I think T-shirts have become the universal uniform. Printed T-shirts quickly project an image; they tell people a little bit about who you are. Shirley's wearing a New York Dolls shirt, and they're one of my favorite bands ever. If I saw her wearing it on the street, I'd want to make a connection; I'd probably go up and talk to her about it."

Contributed by Jerry Burch.

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