—the woman as well as the fashion label she launched in 1981—broadcasts an anarchic edge, flaunting clothing with fantastic patterns, colorful layers, and retro references from Age of Aquarius rock stars to Belle Époque courtesans. Often all in the same outfit, mind you. Sui's new Manhattan abode, a top-floor space in the same 19th-century Greenwich Village building as the one-bedroom apartment she's lived in since 2000, is just as funky. It's an inspired mingling of extravagant furniture, chinoiserie wallpaper, and vintage doodads whose sum-total flamboyance recalls the do-it-yourself glamour of the 1970s, when Sui first came to Manhattan from her native Detroit.
The designer acquired the annex a little more than a year ago, realizing it would be a perfect spot for spreading out to work on book projects. (A salute to her career will be published next year by , written with Andrew Bolton, a close friend and a curator of the of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.) As Sui says, "With two apartments, I can have dinner downstairs and drinks and dessert upstairs."
The original group of strangely proportioned rooms was streamlined by architectural designer Mani Colaku. Now the front door opens onto a long entrance hall that acts as the small place's spine, its high, narrow dimensions dressed in a black wallpaper ornamented with pagodas and mandarins. "I love anything chinoiserie," notes Sui, a granddaughter of a Chinese diplomat. A bath and a small alcove kitchen are on the right, with a sunny book-lined study on the left. At the end of the corridor lies a dressing room that contains the overflow from her wardrobe and features custom-made shelving designed to fit every one of her shoe boxes—each affixed with a Polaroid of its contents for easy identification.
When it came to furnishing the apartment, she was influenced by two American style divas—cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein and interior decorator Dorothy Draper. The result is a magnificently mixed-up but strangely calming atmosphere that's signature Sui. She had always been drawn to the furniture in Rubinstein's Manhattan apartment, especially the sinuous, extravagantly carved sofas and chairs made by John Henry Belter, a Victorian cabinetmaker. Sui bought similar pieces, but the wood finishes didn't match, which is where one of Draper's decorating tricks came into play: When in doubt, paint it black. The designer's furniture restorer in Harlem lacquered everything ebony, from two Louis XV–style commodes to a 1960s faux-bamboo étagère to several rococo mirrors. The dark hue soothed the curlicues into submission and calmed the disparate looks into a harmonious whole. So did covering the sofa and most of the chairs with a pattern Sui designed for a recent collection, a flowerlike motif she printed on upholstery-weight cotton sateen.
Pretty much everything in the space is black or white—with touches of gold—including the floors, lighting, and an inlaid Indian chest of drawers placed against a wall of antiqued mirror that makes the study look twice as large as it is. The collections that fill every tabletop and surface follow the color scheme too: Black-and-white photographs of rock stars (Keith Richards and Brian Jones) are propped on the window ledges, vintage china is displayed atop one of the commodes, and the whimsical papier-mâché busts that inspired Sui's trademark mannequin faces populate several shelves. "I decorate like I do a collection, putting the familiar with the kooky," says the designer, who dreams of creating a line of wallpapers and fabrics in her inimitable style. "I just like mi up things I'm interested in."