Anna Sui found herself drawn to undersea creatures and watery environments. “I think it was all the coverage of the reef bleaching,” she said backstage. “I’m not an activist, or anything like that, I’ve just never seen anything more beautiful than the Great Barrier. So I think it’s important to make a statement now.” Given the state of things, New York Fashion Week has been strangely short on statements climatological, social, or otherwise, so credit to Sui for reminding us that we just lived through the hottest summer ever recorded. Hurricane Lee, which is now threatening the eastern seaboard, became one of just 40 Category 5 storms since 1924 to swirl through the Atlantic.
As Sui admitted, she’s not in the habit of delivering message collections, and had she not spoken about this summer’s ocean heat backstage before the show, it wouldn’t have been obvious that they were on her mind. This collection, like all of Sui’s work, was informed by deep research. She watched and fell in love with My Octopus Teacher, pinned illustrations of mermaids to her studio wall, and reimagined vintage pieces with sea themes, then let those references inform her fabric development. Textiles rippled with color, shimmered with the iridescence of mother-of-pearl, and dripped with water droplet paillettes. There was a lot of variation, but when the models lined up on the stage at the end of the show they formed a complementary ecosystem, just like our precious and imperiled reefs.
If that’s pushing the metaphor, Sui isn’t afraid of putting her intentions on her sleeve. She showed adorable chunky pastel cardigans knitted with fishes and backstage pointed to a t-shirt featuring a mermaid chatting with a school of fish. Her program notes, for anybody so moved, included a link to missionblue.com, which works to raise public awareness and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas.