An evening with Anna and Keith

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Anna Sui and Keith Johnson.
(photo from the Sundance Channel)

I have long wished for a chance to visit Anthropologie's headquarters in Philadelphia. So suffice it to say I was endlessly excited when just such an invite came my way! On Monday night I made my way to Philly for An Evening with Anna and Keith, a party thrown by Anthropologie for a special screening of the season 2 finale of "Man Shops Globe."

The guests of honor were show star (and Anthropologie arts & antiques buyer) Keith Johnson and designer Anna Sui. Their adventures in Syria were filmed for tonight's episode of "Man Shops Globe." On Monday night a couple hundred Anthro lovers got the opportunity to rub elbows with the guests of honor at Anthro's home office. And it was awesome.

I had assumed this event was a press party but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that nearly all of the attendees were anthro cardholders who'd received the same invite as me. After some pre-screening drinks and mingling we were all fielded to a midsized screening room to watch the show. My favorite moment was the thrill a couple of women got when Keith Johnson and Anna Sui ended up sitting next to them for the show. It was great to see the two of them in with the group like that.

Anthropologie co-Presidents Wendy Wurtzburger and Wendy McDevitt

After a brief introduction from Anthropologie co-presidents Wendy Wurtzburger and Wendy McDevitt it was on with the show. The episode was great -- it's clear Mr. Johnson and Ms. Sui have a good friendship that yielded plenty of funny moments during the episode. My personal favorites were when Ms. Sui called a Syrian bath towel wrap the original Snuggie and seeing the vendors peddle at the souk in Aleppo. There was a bit of an adventure opening the shipping containers once everyone was back home. It was also fantastic to get a peek inside Ms. Sui's Manhattan apartment during the episode. The flat was much as I expected and hoped.

Keith Johnson and Anna Sui at a Damascus bath.
(photo from the Sundance Channel)

Once the screening concluded we were treated to a generous question and answer session with the guests of honor. It was interesting to hear more about what goes on in Mr. Johnson's mind on a trip. Sometimes he goes to a country looking for something specific but overall he's looking for something unique to that country that will translate back to the Anthropologie customer. The biggest challenges? Production time and safe shipping. So in case you were wondering yes most of Anthro's home items are produced in their country of origin and then shipped to the United States. Makes those prices seem a little more justified. In the episode we saw Mr. Johnson found some beautiful tables but decided against purchasing them because the vendor could only product one table every few months. As Mr. Johnson put it, four tables a year wasn't going to be enough.

Ms. Sui was looking for furniture and though that quest was unsuccessful she did find a beautiful scarf that might be fodder for a future collection. She noted that she holds on to pieces for years and might find inspiration from a piece a few years down the road instead of right away. Ms. Sui joked that she hadn't started her Spring 2011 runway show yet even with Fashion Week just around the corner. (At least, I think she was joking!) I loved learning that Ms. Sui and Mr. Johnson met at The Garage Flea Market in NYC. I had long assumed that Anthro's collaborations were mostly business relationships, so to hear that they met in an organic context was very cool.

Q&A time!

After the screening it was back out to the large open hall we'd started in for hors d'oeuvres and more mingling. Several Anthropologie employees were in the crowd and I got a chance to meet some and say hello again to others. I was thrilled to get a chance to speak with Wendy McDevitt, Keith Johnson and Anna Sui directly! I asked Mr. Johnson if there's a closet in his apartment labeled "Do Not Open" overstuffed with purchases from his trips. He replied that was how it all started, looking for items to decorate his home and eventually expanding that into a career.

I have long been an Anna Sui fan and had trouble deciding which questions to ask. We ended up in a discussion about flea markets. Ms. Sui had mentioned finding Miriam Haskell pieces at The Garage before anyone knew who the jewelry designer was and I asked what other finds have stuck out. She described a few furniture pieces she'd bought years ago and fondly recalled a bold necklace she wears to this day. We lamented the shrinking flea presence in NYC and I suggested a visit to either Stormville or the Elephant's Trunk for a more classic flea experience.

Before I left, I snapped some photos of pieces from "Man Shops Globe" that were on display as well as some yet-to-be-released pieces from Anthropologie's Fall 2010 collection, featuring Anna Sui (natch). I created a flickr set from the event. Anthro asked me not to take photos of their offices, which I respected. It was tough though! I loved it so.

It was one of the most laid-back events I've been to for a brand, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Many times the guests of honor will avoid the party attendees, come and give their spiel and then leave before anyone can even thank them. But Ms. Sui and Mr. Johnson effortlessly interacted with the crowd. They were both approachable and friendly and it left me effusive. I am so pleased that this was a party thrown for loyal customers as opposed to a press event and I hope its success encourages Anthro to open their doors more often. It was in fact the first public event at Anthro's headquarters. I'd love to see more of these events both in Philadelphia and at their stores. They clearly recognize their devoted customer base -- it was mentioned to me several times, as a shout-out to the community I'm sure! For an event with no shopping I returned home feeling impressively satisfied.

Thanks to Anthropologie's wonderful community team for the invite! Below is a preview for the "Man Shops Globe" episode shown at the party, which airs tonight at 10 PM on the Sundance Channel.

More event coverage:
Syrian Shopping With Anna Sui and Anthro Buyer Keith Johnson (The Cut)
Anthropologie Welcomes Customers to Its Headquarters for the First Time Ever, Greets Them With Anna Sui’s Smiling Face (Fashionista)