'I was born in a suburb of Detroit and came to New York to go to Parsons School of Design, and I’ve stayed here ever since. I started my own company in 1981 and had my first fashion show in 1991… I’ve been at this for a while. My aesthetic, I think, is me; the collection is really about my world and what I love. I have the best job in the world because I can use anything that I’m obsessed with or loving in my collection, and I do—that’s where you get these crazy mixes of, like, ‘Tibetan surfer’ or my last collection, ‘Madeleine Castaing punk.’ I like taking two very, very different words and letting them collide because it’s kind of the way my brain thinks.
I kind of found my look, I think. Of course, it changes—my hair gets either a little more layered, or shorter, or longer, but it basically stays around this version. My makeup is kind of the same, too: always black eyeliner, always red lips, and always some kind of blush. But again, sometimes it’s more severe. I used to wear a smudgier eye, for example, much darker. But it really hasn’t changed. I don’t wear mascara, I don’t use an eyebrow pencil. There are just certain things I don’t like, like mascara. It’s sticky…it’s like having glue on your eyes; I don’t like the feeling. And we make the best mascara in the world in the Anna Sui cosmetics line, but I don’t like wearing it.
I always wear nail polish, too. Right now, it’s a combination of our newest Anna Sui color, plus I added more glitter on the top—a chunky glitter from Milani Jewel FX —to give it a little more dimension. I do my nails twice a week. I hate chipped nails; it bugs me. Even though there was a moment when it was cool to have chipped nails…it’s just, I don’t know. I like them perfect. And I work with my hands, so they're always getting chipped. I have figured out all these different things to make polish stay longer, like putting on a top coat, a base coat…. I’m obsessed with it. [Laughs] I set aside an hour twice a week, usually at night when I’m watching TV. Another trick I’ve learned is that glitter helps hide flaws, so the polish doesn’t have to be mirror perfect. Of course, it’s pretty hard to get glitter off, but it's worth it.
I wear makeup every day, except on the weekends—if I go into the office on the weekends, I don’t usually wear makeup. Yep, I have a seven-days-a-week job. But it takes me about 10 minutes every morning to put everything on. For my eyes, I have this great Thierry Mugler eyeliner brush that a makeup artist was using on me when I was touring in Canada—you just dip it in the gel liner and go whoosh and you get this little flick at the end. It’s a definite time saver. Before, I was using a smaller brush and you would have to build up the line a few times, but this one is much faster.
In the past, I’ve used a pencil or liquid liner, but then I decided that liquid looked too hard, so now I use a gel. We make a gel, and Maybelline has a great one, the Eyestudio Gel, which is like the Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner but a little more moist. My eyes water, so I need something that will stay put, but I also have some things that I use to compensate. Like, there's an eyeliner sealer called She Laq, which Benefit discontinued I think. And then Paula Dorf did a Transformer, where you could take an eye shadow and draw it on and then put this clear liquid on top and make it into a liquid eyeliner... There are all kind of tricks you can do to make it stay, but it’s just time-consuming, so I like the easiest one: gel liner.
Lipsticks are another thing—I love red lips. I guess at one point, the red dye became illegal or something…. because you used to be able to buy the best red lipstick at the dime stores, like Woolworth's, and it would stay on forever. But they stopped making it. So, that was the first thing I asked for when I started my own line, which right now is sold mostly in Asia. I brought in all the remnants of these dime store lipsticks and I said, ‘We have to have to do this color.’ That's the # 400 lipstick. I usually just wear #400, but sometimes I’ll mix in another color, if I want it to be a little bluer or something. I feel kind of invisible when I don’t wear lipstick. [Laughs] Like, when I go to the flea market, usually I have no makeup on. I feel invisible. I don’t think people recognize me without makeup, but I guess they do.
For blush, Anna Sui has a great powder blush in #400, which I’ll use, but I also love the Tickled Cheek Stain from Tarte. It’s this big, crayon-like gel that’s amazing—it reminds me of an old one that Estée Lauder used to do. They had a bronzer, and I remember when we were in high school, we used to put it on and we’d look like we had a tan….But I couldn’t wear makeup until my senior year of high school; I wasn’t allowed. When I was allowed, the first thing I got was a cake eyeliner. I used to try wearing a white or like a white-ish pearl highlighter….that didn’t work on my eyes. [Laughs] So, then I decided just to do black eyeliner. I have little eyes, and you’ll notice that most Asian girls play up their eyes. I stuck to that, but when I went into college, I just broke out. I tried every look. Like every color, even that Guy Bourdin, sort of ‘70s style with lots of blush. And lots of rainbow colors on my eyes….And then I just kind of settled back into this look.
Back in the day, my apartment used to be playhouse central. I had all these vintage hats and fur and feather boas hanging on the walls on hat racks, and everyone would come over and we’d take pictures. That’s what we did. We would get all dressed up, put on lots of makeup, and then go out. It was fun! [Laughs] I had a makeup mirror on the inside of my closet that lit up, and so everybody would be angling for that mirror. Steven [Meisel] was the best of us at doing makeup. It’s like kind of the same thing now at shoots—Steven does all of my makeup and perfume ads—but it’s just a different face that we’re making up or painting or giving a look to. Back then, we would find somebody that we thought had a great look and invite them over and dress them and take pictures or we’d take someone from our crowd and do that with them.
In terms of hair products, I love Garren’s line, and he also cuts my hair. I get it cut about twice a year, but I do my bangs myself—that’s why I have all these scissors! [Laughs] One of my best friends a long time ago was the creative director at Vidal Sassoon, and he taught me how to maintain the bangs. I don’t have to do much else to my hair except use a hot iron. I like it smoother, and it’s not quite so straight naturally. I live by Garren's Designing Spray Tonic. It’s like a hairspray, but you can style it and it’s not stiff—I can spray it on my bangs if I don’t want the wave. And then of course I use an Anna Sui brush, though I still have my favorite Denman brush, which I’ve used since I’ve been in New York—I have them in every size.
Oh, and I have a favorite new makeup product that I heard about from Zandra Rhodes and Vicky Tiel, some of my idol designers. They were all wearing red lipstick, and I think Vicki said one day, ‘Well, how do you stop it from bleeding within the cracks?’ And Zandra told us about Make Up For Ever Lip Line Perfector. It’s a clear wax that you just draw around so the color doesn’t bleed on your lips; it’s amazing.
For skincare, I always had bad skin—you know, pimples and stuff—so I never put any oil on my face. But when we came out with the oil-based skin cleanser in our line, one time I was in my hotel room and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to try it’—it was the best thing. It takes off makeup, plus it really moisturizes your skin without making it greasy. For a moisturizer, my favorite is Amlactin Body Lotion. It didn’t go with the color scheme of the bathroom, but I love it. [Laughs] It used to be prescription only, but it’s really good for dry skin, your hands, your feet, your legs. I make everyone in my family use it. On my face, I use Christine Chin’s Perfect Hydrating Crème—it’s the best one I’ve ever used. Anna Sui makes moisturizer, but I like this one better.”
—as told to ITG
Anna Sui photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on November 20th, 2012.