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Designer Sandy Liang's Muse: Chinatown Grandmas

Gearing up for MADE Fashion Week, we made a quick stop at newcomer Sandy Liang’s LES studio. The downtown girl’s subterranean design fortress is a pearly white canvas, with a soft baby blue couch, and ceiling high ornate Chinese vases neatly kept in the corner. Liang, calm and cool before the chaos of Fashion Week hits, took the time to chat with us about her urban-cool signature style—that of the Chinatown Grandma. Beyond discussion of influence and inspiration, Liang also let us in on her Christian Bale obsession, her superstar girl crushes, and what life would be like if she were a Chinatown grandma herself.

What images did you have in the back of your mind while designing this collection?

I definitely looked at movies. I’m always inspired by films— Girl Interrupted, The Royal Tenenbaums, but the way I design is really fluid in that the next collection is always going to be stemmed from the previous collection because it’s more about an attitude. It’s more about my perspective rather than a new inspiration for every collection. My inspiration and images never really change from season to season, I just sort of add on. What I think is unique about the way I design is that it’s very personal and organic in a way because I mean, my grandma raised me and she’s always been one of my constant inspirations and I have this whole Chinatown grandma thing which has sort of grew. It’s also about my environment, I live around here so the LES, Chinatown and just this area in general, the people around here, and the girls around here are definitely my inspiration. Also, my pieces are meant to be worn. They’re meant to be on the subway, going out and getting drinks spilled on them, you know, but they can also be worn to a real event.

Is there anything different between your thought process in this collection versus last year’s?

I definitely wanted to make the collection smaller so I could focus on each piece more individually. I named all of the jackets, they don’t even have style numbers so that way, when we’re talking about them we kind of treat them like personalities. It makes sense that way, they are really special pieces.

What names did you choose?

There’s the Delancey Moto Jacket, there’s the Inez Jacket, and there’s the Claude Jacket because it’s this big fluffy coat that looks like a cloud and kind of just gives off a French vibe. So yeah, names like that. There’s the Allen Puffer cause of Allen Street.

Your pieces feature a lot of really fun appliqués, where are they from?

Oh, Swarovski. When I was a senior at Parsons there was a competition and basically if you won it, you got a certain amount of crystals for your collection and so that’s how it all started. The crystals seemed so femme to me, and I kind of wanted to man it up a bit by adding stainless steel earrings and nipple rings.

You grew up in Bayside, Queens. Do you see a difference between the Queens grandma and the Chinatown grandma?

My parents separated, and my dad lives in Flushing so the Flushing grandma is sort of similar to the Chinatown grandma. I’ll do a little report for you and then we’ll compare. But, for the most part the reason why I think Chinatown grandma’s are cool, and it’s not specific to Chinatown really—but I think the way they get ready in the morning is special. They wear all these crazy florals, they’re wearing all these different colors and they just don’t give a fuck. It’s really just they’re attitude, they don’t care. They throw on whatever and they look so happy. There’s this one photo, I have to show you actually. She was buying dumplings outside this stand, but does that not look like Jil Sander? But she’s a Chinatown grandma, you see? I thought that was so cool, and I love the silhouette of the pants cause it’s floral and wide, but cropped. I love it when I can see an angle cause I’m short, so I’m used to that. I always cut off my jeans and stuff.

If you could be a Chinatown grandma yourself, what block would you be on? What’s your territory?

Bowery Street I think, it’s one of the main streets. Anywhere where’s there good food really. Maybe my dad’s restaurant just in front of there. I’d definitely be buying groceries, I like to eat these purple sweat potatoes and they only sell them in Chinatown at Hong Kong supermarkets, so you can always spot me there buying pounds and pounds of it.

Who’s the Sandy Liang girl and where do you see her heading?

I can tell you what she’s wearing. She’s wearing probably old Prada shoes, with a Patagonia fleece. That’s my ideal girl. She’s someone who appreciates fashion, but maybe doesn’t pay so much attention to blogs and stuff like that. Maybe it just comes more naturally to her. She’s definitely someone who invests in pieces. She’ll buy something, and maybe it’s really expensive, but she’ll keep it forever and that’s sort of my mentality when it comes to shopping. She’ll treat these pieces like they’re really special things, but maybe she doesn’t shop all that much though. My showroom probably wouldn’t want to hear this haha.

That’s so the Queens in you. Sounds super hoodrich.

Yeah! Hoodrich! That’s one of my brother’s favorite words.

You have a lot of Christian Bale on your mood board.

Let’s just make the headline right now, “Sandy Liang Is Obsessed With Christian Bale.” I love Christian Bale, American Psycho, the Batman movies, anything really, I think he’s just the epitome of the cool rugged man. So it’s Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, and recently Jamie Dornan, 50 Shades of Grey is coming out the same night as my presentation, so I’ve been like “Do I present at fashion week? Or do I watch the 50 Shades of Grey movie?

You’re in your early 20’s. What’s it like being a youngin’ in the fashion game?

It sucks. I graduated Parsons in 2013 and so it’s been one year in the studio. This I my third season now and it’s definitely been hard cause I really don’t know what I’m doing and there’s no guide to how to become a fashion designer. So it’s really just about making connections and people have just been so supportive. Kate Foley met me when I was showing my first collection, I didn’t have a lookbook or anything she just came, saw the clothes and we’ve been working together ever since. She’s been amazing. But, I’ve sort of just had to figure the entire process out. Literally just winging it, and everyday’s been a different problem, and a different challenge, but it’s so rewarding. I get to be my own boss, it’s cool. I get to go home and watch Netflix if I feel like it.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

Sofia Coppola with Daria Werbowy. Daria’s my unicorn, she lives around here I think and I’ve seen her a couple of times sitting in the cafe and I just can’t even breathe. She’s so beautiful.

If there was a film-bio made about your life who would you cast as your role?

Someone like a young Natalie Portman in Leon The Professional.

What’s the gift of your dreams? Something to win your soul.

Okay cool. I think when I was in college and starting my degree in fashion I was a lot more materialistic because you sort of have to be obsessed with material things because that’s what you’re designing. But ever since I started doing this and running my business, I just want it to grow. That’s all I want. I don’t even really go shopping anymore unless it’s shoes, or there’s a huge sale, or if it’s Woodbury. Gotta love Woodbury. In terms of the perfect gift, I really like cars, the G-Wagon specifically.

Sandy Liang is showing at MADE Fashion Week Saturday, February 14th at 8PM.

Photographs shot exclusively for MilkMade by Mitchell McLennan

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