September 7th, 2007 | 0 comments | Posted by Jen

In the summer of ’93, all I wanted was a little air-conditioning and an Anna Sui dress. I was interning at MTV, for the since-defunct “Rockumentary” department, making $0 dollars, and sharing an airless apartment with one of my best college friends, who was also interning for $0 dollars at a publishing company. We were often so broke that we would have to walk the entire length of Manhattan in the brutal heat and towering wedges instead of taking the subway, which I think cost $1.25 at the time.

I spent that summer transcribing the unintelligible garble of Steven Tyler of Aerosmith BY HAND, because MTV was too cheap to give computers to interns, then transferring that whole mess–”alksjfoweijfwoainvoanznvksu VULVA alkdjoiaejwoaejfnoiv OWWWWWWWW aielc;lixkciksand LOVE IN AN ELEVATOR” onto some higher-up’s computer. My reward at the end of that stint was a white, XL Real World Los Angeles t-shirt, a piece of schwag I literally had to beg some producer for.

A friend at the time was also an MTV intern, in another department, but she was living out a different New York story. She was from The City. She was not paying rent to live in her parents’ cush Upper East Side apartment. She could afford to go out to dinner. And she bought Anna Sui dresses in bulk, the way that I would buy Kleenex.

I went inside the Anna Sui store in Soho one time during those months, and I remember touching every item, trying to absorb the “cool” of Anna through my un-manicured fingertips. She possessed a certain magic, the kind that could transform an ordinary girl into someone fantastic and worldly. Her dresses were the ultimate status symbol–supermodels like Naomi Campbell wore them–and I–broke, sweaty, and blistered–desperately wanted status.

In the years since, as my fortunes improved, I have bought two Anna Sui pieces, both tops. I never wear either. Both are made of silk but not particularly well, with loose threads and tears everywhere. And they’re ugly. Scratch that, they’re fugly. One is a black blouse with large tulips on it, and the other is some kind of animal-print. They both could work on Halloween, as a costume parody of a rich hippie or rocker chick. They look like they belong in Steven Tyler’s closet, actually, and not mine.

For New York Fashism Week, there’s an Anna Sui retrospective on display at Macy’s. Here’s a sampling from the show:

There’s nothing particularly disgraceful about Anna Sui. She has cool friends like Anita Pallenberg and Marc Jacobs. She knows how to rock those china-doll bangs and black eyeliner. She manages to look good in clothes even though she’s not a teensy Asian chick. That’s a tough row to hoe.

But her clothes suck. They’re overpriced. They’re poorly-made. They are silly, nostalgic rehashings of Ossie Clark and Biba from forty years ago and completely lack originality. And when I look at them now, I don’t see objects that have the power to make a person chic and cool. I see very average frocks. It took me a long time to let go of that fantasy.


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