how to dress like a cool chinatown grandma according to sandy liang
Downtown fashion’s rising star taught us why bundling up is the new dressing up.
Sandy Liang is telling us how much she loves fuzzy outerwear when an IRL wriggling ball of fuzz, her Australian Shepherd Tim Tam, peeks one blue eye out from under the couch. Sandy flings a toy across the studio. The pup, clad in a cable-knit sweater, scrambles after it, sliding across the floor.
"He's basically the inspiration for every single collection," Sandy says. So far, there have been two (Tim Tam is also two). They're every bit as gleeful and mischievous as the dog himself: think bra-tops with jeweled nipple rings, leather jackets embroidered with flowers, ice-cream popsicle clutches, and rough-hemmed flare capris. Sometimes, the Tim Tam inspiration is more obvious. "I dyed this shearling to make it look more like him!" Sandy points to a grey, white, and brown-spotted collar, destined for one of her famous coats. "Is that horrible?"
Sandy graduated from Parsons in 2013, and after interning at Opening Ceremony, Jason Wu, and Phillip Lim, started her eponymous line. After just two seasons, she's expertly minted a signature look. It's one half Chinatown grandma - "crazy pajama patterns; florals and lots of colors" - and one half Margot Tenenbaum, feminine with an edge. Her clothes are regularly spotted on models like Soo Joo Park, as well as the kind of Lower East Side girls who love lace-up sneakers as much as pointy-toed pumps and wear both with cut-off jeans. Chances are, if they're Sandy's jeans, there's going to be some bejewelling going on, too.
Tim Tam isn't the only thing in Sandy's basement studio that resembles her clothing. During our interview, we sit on a baby-blue velvet sofa atop a pink shag carpet, the precise color palette from both seasons. The floors are polished grey marble, with a similar sheen to a satin tank-dress from spring/summer 15. And what about the four enormous decorative vases, printed with scenes of warriors, flowers, and birds? Seemingly out of place until you check her spring/summer 15 lookbook, shot at Congee Bowery a few minutes away on the Lower East Side. In the photos, models snack on orange chicken amid fake bamboo plants, green marble walls, and glass chandeliers. Her dad owns the restaurant, and got her the vases. "It's so tacky in there! But I love it. I grew up around it," Sandy says of the restaurant. "You should see our house. There's like, neon everywhere."
Sandy grew up in Bayside, Queens, a "cute suburban neighborhood" where "everyone in my middle school wore the same Abercrombie stuff." Originally, Sandy's parents, who emigrated from China in their 20s, wanted her to be an architect. But when they saw her senior thesis collection at Parsons, pieces of which were included in her debut autumn/winter 14 line, they realised she was serious. "It wasn't just that I liked shopping or pretty clothes. I was really passionate."
For the record: Sandy does like pretty clothes. When we meet, she's wearing patent-leather Repetto flats, boxy capri jeans ("they're cut like these ones I bought at a stand on Bayard and Canal"), purple lipstick, and a bevy of subtle cartilage rings. Of course, it's too warm inside for a big colorful coat, her signature item. When we take a portrait, she slips on a pair of rhinestone kitten-heel Manolos. "It's about being effortless," she says, "but still sexy and feminine and pretty."
Text Alice Hines
Photography Kathy Lo