There have been few opportunities to dress up since the COVID-19 pandemic curbed nightlife, galas and society events, but a welcome antidote to yoga pants and t-shirts is finally coming to South Florida.

“The World of Anna Sui,” a retrospective exhibition of more than 100 iconic looks from the designer is opening this weekend and will be on display through the summer at the NSU Museum of Art in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Born in the suburbs of Detroit, Sui joined New York’s cultural underground at an intensely creative time in the 1970s, forming important relationships in the worlds of fashion, photography, art, music and design.

Since her first catwalk show in 1991, Sui has become known for creating fabulously original clothing inspired by intensive research into vintage fashion and popular culture. The exhibition looks at Sui’s artistic journey through her creative process, collections, interiors and collaborations.

Thematically arranged by British curator Dennis Nothdruft, the exhibition explores Sui’s lifelong engagement with an array of archetypes including the rock star, schoolgirl, punk, nomads, and surfers — motifs that are featured throughout her work. From fairy tales and fables to Victoriana, Sui researches her current cultural obsessions in minute detail to create a different story with each collection.

“The exhibition showcases a fashion designer who is not only highly creative and entrepreneurial, but also playful and positive,” said Nothdruft, who steered the exhibit first to successful runs in London, Shanghai, Tokyo and New York City.

The exhibition ranges from early looks such as the exuberant Carnaby Street schoolgirl outfits worn by supermodels Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell in Sui’s first runway show in 1991 to the cowgirl and cheerleader modeled by Gigi and Bella Hadid in her Spring/Summer 2017 Americana-themed collection. Other hallmark outfits include Sui’s “Silver Peruvian Ensemble” and iconic sequined silk organza “Babydoll Dress” from Spring 1994.

Nothdruft selected a range of designs that emphasize Sui’s consistent approach as she incorporates her current passions into every garment. As it celebrates American fashion, the exhibition also provides a fascinating guide to the history of American pop culture, and an inside look into the creative process and unique world view of this iconic designer whose daring and experimental approach to design has become a mainstay of the international fashion scene. 

Bonnie Clearwater, NSU Art Museum director and chief curator, agrees: “Throughout her career Sui has inventively blended global art history, music and popular culture for each new collection. Her designs are inspired by extraordinary and creative women and her embrace of collaborations across disciplines keeps her at the forefront of fashion, art and design.”

“The World of Anna Sui” is on display at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Tuesday through Saturday, Feb. 28 – Sept. 19. Advance timed reservations are required. Tickets are $12 adults, $8 seniors and military, and $5 students at