Clad in a sleeveless red dress, Chirlane McCray introduced her husband, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, to the hundreds of guests at his victory party on election night.
With the red complementing her skin tone, plus the broad smile on her face, she looked just stunning. Part of the credit has to go to Anni Kuan, a Chinese fashion designer who designed the dress for the future First Lady of the city.
How did McCray choose Kuan’s work?
The story started a long time ago. McCray, who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, often goes shopping at a boutique called Otto, her way of supporting local businesses. Eight years ago, Otto underwent a renovation. And afterwards, it brought in a new brand, “Anni Kuan.” McCray became a fan of Anni Kuan’s clothes. When the designer visited the shop, the two were introduced.
In Kuan’s eyes, “Chirlane is very nice, warm and down to earth.” She treats others respectfully and sincerely. And her fashion tastes and style are also very smart. “She likes colorful clothes.”
It was last Thursday, as Kuan remembers, that she bumped into McCray again at the shop and asked her what she planed to wear at the victory party. McCray said, “I haven’t thought about it. I am too busy. Maybe I’ll just find one from my wardrobe.” Kuan then said, “Maybe I can help you.”
She chose a red dress from her 2013 Spring collection, customized it for McCray, and it looked perfect. McCray also bought a pair of earrings at Otto to match the dress. The whole outfit for the victory party was now complete!
Kuan was fully satisfied with the effect of the dress that night. And the price for the dress was only $195.
Kuan came to the United States from Taiwan when she was 12. After she graduated from Pratt Institute, she became a fashion designer. But that’s not all. “I also write novels. I have been writing for 27 years,” said Kuan with her signature dimpled smile, which makes the designer in her 50s look 20 years younger.
When she was a kid, Kuan liked drawing. A high school teacher encouraged her to study fashion design, “so you can draw all the time.” It was only after she started to work as a designer that she found she could spend at most only 5 percent of her time on drawing. The rest of the time has to be spent on meeting clients, purchasing fabrics and conceiving ideas.
As a small business, Kuan’s design company has only three full-time staff members and one part-timer. She has to wear different hats herself, including that of bookkeeper. “The positive side of being a small business owner is that I have to learn everything,” she said, and become expert at everything.
It’s not an easy way to make a living as a fashion designer in New York. In hard times, Kuan’s family offered her a lot of support, especially financially. “My parents and my brothers often had to lend me money when I needed it. When I kept my head above water, I’d return the money to them. They never urged me to return the money or charged interest.” And this time, of course, her family also shared her pride in becoming a designer for the future First Lady of New York.
With her hard work over the years, Kuan has gotten recognition in the fashion industry, and her work was highlighted in The New York Times Magazine. Although she doesn’t have her own retail shop yet, the Anni Kuan brand can be seen in many shops around the city. For example, movie star Naomi Watts often goes to a shop on 42nd Street in Manhattan to buy the latest Anni Kuan.
Kuan said another buyer is Nicole Kidman, who often buys two or three of the same pieces at once. “I don’t know why,” Kuan said.