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Fashion Week: Anna Sui's Steampunk Stamp

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Karl Prouse/Catwalking/Getty ImagesKarl Prouse/Catwalking/Getty Images

It's almost too perfect that Anna Sui's regally chaotic Spring 2013 runway show preceded this morning's announcement of next year's punk-and-couture extravaganza curated by the Met Costume Institute. One of New York fashion's veteran rocker chicks, Sui rarely lets a collection pass without some sort of musical stamp worked in. For this season's 45-look collection, she was compelled by what seemed to be, at a cursory glance, two mutually exclusive influences: French antique doyenne Madeleine Castaing's vast body of interior decor work and Sui's own rip-it-to-shreds days as a Seventies punk kid in New York and London.

So what happens when you cross embroidered brocade tapestries with slash-and-burn aesthetics? Miss Havisham, of course, or a haunted Gary Graham collection (for whom the ruinous literary character serves as an eternal muse). Interestingly, Sui's latest work feels like a kindred collection to those of the enigmatic New York City designer Graham, whose fixation with crushed and rotting Victorian grandeur has earned him a special cult of admirers.

Sui's Spring 2013 nod to that age doesn't feel decrepit, though; it feels young, bold and cocky. The girls all wore short wigs of cotton-candy pink or Windex blue – an identifiable Sui tradition and a great way to keep things girly and acerbic in one. Her primary points of reference harken back to her own youth, including adolescent idol Mirielle Cervenka (the deceased sister of X vocalist Exene). Cervenka championed an early form of steampunk, the unique and underexplored British niche of fashion that fused Edwardian and Victoriana styles with punk brio. Sui focused on working that hybrid into her own looks by virtue of certain standout pieces: a white lace capelet worn over a sea-colored minidress with a turquoise and bronze amulet and white, strappy brocade boots; cameo jewelry worn with grey leather bondage pants and a crocheted loose cardigan in a muted frenzy of pastels. It was all still very Sui: ad-hoc and home-hewn, intrinsically arts-and-crafts at its core, but it also seemed very rebellious and smart. It felt like a revelatory, very personal message that Sui has been wanting to send us for years.

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