Sandy Liang’s SS21 collection is a cheeky tribute to 00s youth
The New York designer on 'Ponyo', Margot Tenenbaum and the freedom of showing her latest collection digitally.
Photography Kathy Lo
Sandy Liang has always straddled two worlds. Season after season, the New York-based designer somehow manages to capture our current cultural zeitgeist by nodding to years, and often decades past. For autumn/winter 19, she looked to Sofia Coppola’s pastel teen dream, Marie Antoinette, and when Sandy launched her first jewelry collection for spring/summer 20, her references took the form of 90s youth characters — miniature Polly Pockets and the fantastical Sailor Moon. This season Sandy takes us on a journey once again, citing Ponyo (a Japanese animated film by Hayao Miyazaki), Margot Tenenbaum (from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums) and Sakura Card Captor, but what she’s created in the process is her own fully-formed universe — her characters armed with strategically placed cut-outs, micro-mini skirts and belly chains.
It’s obvious that fashion week looks quite different this year, on all accounts. For Sandy, who, over the last two years, made the move from small, downtown presentations to a full-scale catwalk affair, the limitations placed on New York Fashion Week put the emphasis back where it belongs — on the clothes themselves. “It was extremely freeing,” she says, of showing her spring/summer 21 collection digitally. “For me, I just want the clothes to be out there, without the association to a show and the press. I think I feel this way especially because when I started it felt like the amount of attention you received was tantamount to how much attention you could get from your show, which kind of meant that it was never about the clothes in the first place.”
In looking at the clothes for SS21, Sandy has recreated some of her beloved silhouettes and her characters come alive in the cheeky details. The Lower East Side teen is reimagined as if the world of Bratz and Studio Ghibli were one. There are sleek exposed thong skirts, outsized witchy collars, 90s singlets in the Margo print, designed with artist Sara Rabin, and the extremely low-rise trousers paired with grunge boots. Over her last few shows and this season’s virtual outing — a fashion film produced by Mitch Ryan, the go-see inspired photos shot by Kathy Lo — the Sandy Liang girl has all but grown up. She’s toothsome, she’s edgy and she’s got bite.
Here, the designer tells us about her inspirations for this season, how she created her latest collection in quarantine and what’s next for Sandy Liang.
How would you describe your SS21 collection in three words?
Toothsome, spaceship, Ponyo.
We see a return to some of your signature silhouettes and colorways, but there are some new cheeky details — like the exposed thong-inspired skirt and the oversized, witchy collar on the two-piece suit set. Tell us about some of these details. What else is new this season?
I would say this collection is a truer distillation of me than a normal season where we are working under more time constraints and the pressure to make more, for the sake of making more. I enjoyed and believe in every piece of this collection, whereas in the past I do feel like I had to make enough things to pass the collection off as a true “collection”.
In terms of what's new... I would say the process was new, in a good way. I had time to think about the clothes, and not about the show, which I always felt like people use to describe your collection, when in reality the collection should be about the clothes — not just who the models are, where the venue was, etc.
The Margo print, designed with artist Sara Rabin, is featured throughout. How did you two come up with the design?
I wanted my own little character, much like the Sanrio characters I grew up with. She's a bit of Ponyo, a bit of Margot Tenenbaum and a little bit scary. Sara did an amazing job translating that into this glowy, sweet baby.
It feels Studio Ghibli-inspired. How does the short film that you made with Mitch Ryan tie all of these animated influences together?
It really isn't meant to feel Studio Ghibli-inspired, but I love Studio Ghibli so that's fine with me. It's funny because we had just wrapped up the shoot and had gone home when Mitch called me about the video. He asked if I wanted a sound byte in there and I immediately thought of Sakura Card Captor. There's a scene in the series, after she realizes she has magical powers, where her best friend shows up with a truck load of custom designer outfits for Sakura. Sakura at first rejects and doesn't really think she needs these clothes just to capture cards, but then she realizes that having beautiful clothes will help her be more magical and feel better. I thought that idea was fitting for the video, and how I feel about clothes in general.
The collection was made throughout quarantine. How did this affect your creative process and shape your vision?
It was nice to be in my own head and not have to deal with the everyday bits of running a business. When you're a part of a small team, there's no such thing as a “designer” role. But this time around, I did get to settle down and do just that.
In what ways was the lack of IRL runway show freeing or challenging for you as a designer?
It was extremely freeing. So much of what I personally don't always love about doing a show is how people want to read so deeply into what you put on for a show (as in the venue, the models, the “vibe”, who showed up) and connect that to the collection as a whole. For me, I just want the clothes to be out there, without the association to a show and the press. I think I feel this way especially because when I started it felt like the amount of attention you received was tantamount to how much attention you could get from your show, which kind of meant that it was never about the clothes in the first place.
Movies and cinema have always been so integral to your collections and the Sandy Liang universe. What are you watching now?
I'm watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Sakura Card Captor now.
What's next for Sandy Liang?
Opening a store! Doing our first shoe.