Forgotten Fashion Shows is a deep dive into some of fashion’s most obscure runway presentations, which still have a significant impact today. Kristen Bateman, the writer of Forgotten Fashion Shows, interviews the designers and other people involved in making these shows happen. She reveals what makes each show so unique.
There was one place on the New York Fashion Circuit in the late 1990s that you could find references to subcultures and lingerie rock stars, as well as fairies and ballet. This was the Anna Sui runway show, in particular the spring 1997 presentation. It took place in October 1996. Glitzy fairy wings, black lace mini dresses and backless forest nymph gowns were on display. Not to mention the stars of that show, Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers who walked the runway in lingerie. This has all resulted in endless mood board saves, and Pinterest re-pins.
The label was just beginning to grow. Anna Sui had opened a Soho store, a fragrance and cosmetics license, and had an undeniable aesthetic. This merged the popular subcultures of the era, such as grunge and Goth, with a vintage sensibility, and a meticulous approach to rich fabric combinations. Anna Sui’s 1997 spring runway collection still feels relevant twenty years later. Subcultures continue to thrive and inspire designers. Fashion turns its attention toward fantasy in turbulent times. Francois Nars smudged the glitter makeup on the runway, which felt very current against the backdrop of Euphoria, and the return to the mid-2000s indie sleaze era. People of all ages continue to lust after Sui’s Y2K-era pieces. Sui collaborated with SSENSE to create a capsule collection that was inspired by her 2001 Mud Club Collection.
In the ’90s, Sui walked the catwalks with some of the most prominent names in the industry. The spring 1997 show featured the faces of Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, Amber Valletta and the late Stella Tennant. Steven Meisel was Sui’s close friend and helped to cast the shows. He also drew in many big-name models. “It was a great time, because it was intimate,” Sui says to W. “It was almost like a party scene backstage at every show.
But having a rocker-slash-celebrity walk the runway felt new–and spoke to Sui’s focus on hosting dynamic shows that felt celebratory, fresh, and different. Sui met Navarro first at a festival near San Francisco. She chatted with him and then asked him if he’d ever like to be in her show. Sui recalls that Navarro said, “Well, only if there is lingerie involved.” He flew in to do his fitting. When he arrived, he took off all of his clothes and said, “You are the artist. I’m the clay. Mold me. Everybody in the room almost died.” Sui dressed him in a lingerie shirt and whole leather pieces for the show, many of which were handmade. All pieces were handmade in the U.S. with all crochet and knits made by hand.
Sui was inspired by fairy tales and classical ballet that season. She recalled that she had a wall full of Rudolf Nureyev photos. A documentary on Nureyev had inspired her to design the poem shirts, braids and whipstitch-edge jackets. Garren, Sui’s long-time hairdresser, talked about the ballet inspiration by creating chignons that dangled loosely around the faces of the models.
Hole’s “Gold Dust Woman”, and The Cardigans’s Lovefool were sounded in New York City’s Bryant Park tents. Models strutted down the runway in flippy sarongs and low-slung leather trousers, while hippie take on corporate suiting. As they approached the end of runway, buttons were removed and jackets were thrown on the shoulders. There were many moods to the show. The show opened with casual, breezy pieces, before moving on to minimal suiting and then black lace with bright lemon-yellow or lilac. Although Navarro was able to walk in many of these “moods,” his most memorable and lasting moment was without a doubt following Naomi Campbell down the runway wearing a black lace gown with hearts above the bust.
Sui cast Iris Palmer, a model, as the “tipsy fairy,” wearing one pair of angelic fairy wings. Sui says, “I saw Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I loved the way everything twinkled.” “So I searched for a fabric similar to crinkled silk, but with glitter prints.” Sui asked James Coviello (the man who made her visionary knits) to create fairy wings that perfectly matched her dresses. Sui says, “He could do anything.”
Another accessory that was epic and transcendent of reality? Karen Erickson’s beaded snake necklace, which dripped down to the models’ necks, was very realistic. Sui says that it took many days to create because of the sheer number of beads. “But that’s Karen. Karen just goes there and makes it more luxurious than you can imagine.
Model Kirsty Hume, a black slip dress with slivers and slits of fabric, walked onto the runway moments before the show was over. Navarro wore black leather pants and a cropped wrap top. Campbell wore a printed slip dress in gauzy black. It was very Black Swan. Sui says, “It was an extraordinary time because New York was the main focus at that point.” “We had supermodels who walked on the runway. You can see how much everyone had a great time when you look back at those shows.
Sui was a regular at New York Fashion Week, and an international fixture in the fashion world by the time she walked out of the spring 1997 show. Even though she didn’t have a history of fashion shows, Sui attracted top editors and models. After studying at Parsons, Sui founded her brand in 1980 and worked for several small sportswear labels. Her first runway show was held in 1991. She is one of few female designers from New York’s 1990s grunge era who still designs on a large scale today. Her layered approach to color and texture–which is in high demand with maximalist fashion rising–but also the nostalgic charm of her fun shows where models paraded around freely–are what make her appealing. Spring 1997 proved that subcultural references are dynamic and a directional approach to fabrics is what will be remembered.