Did your parents let you DRIP to the fullest??

Talkin' CHILDHOOD grails, FIRE fleeces, SWAGGY Chinatown elders & more with NYC designer Sandy Liang

Sandy Liang — she’s a popping NYC designer who’s cool as s**t…!!

Among other VIRTUES, Sandy is a crucial figure in the current GORP wave, thanks to the highly influential fire UNISEX FLEECES she’s been putting out since 2017 — including a dog version (below right) that she just dropped last week to insulate my good GORPY puppers on these winter walks ??

Sandy also designs a bunch of dope non-fleece jawns, refracting references to late-‘90s pop-culture (from Virgin Suicides to SpongeBob to Destiny’s Child) thru a downtown NYC lens

The other day we hit her up to discuss 1 of her most cherished possessions — a ‘90s Casio GEM — along with “unbeatable topics” such as coveting jawns that your parents DENIED you… why Chinese-grandma fits go so f**king hard … whether or not ‘90s SKECHERS were inadvertently avant-garde… and why FLEECES will NEVER DIE

Blackbird Spyplane: We gotta kick this off with a little GORP GENEALOGY. When we think about the origins of the current fashion-GORP moment (as opposed to the original ‘90s GORP wave) we gotta give you props for sending some monster fleeces down the runway years before this sherpa s**t fully popped off again!!

Sandy Liang: “I would be so ultra-not-humble if I claimed that. You’re trying to trick me! [Laughs] No, I mean, I can see it. Who knows, right? The world is crazy. I designed the ‘Checkers’ fleece for spring ’17 because I was dating this guy who was super outdoorsy, and I looked at the womens’ fleeces on the market and they all sucked. They were like mauve and ‘shapely.’ I was like, What’s up with that? Why do I need to be ‘sexy’ when I’m hiking? My vibe is more Gap Kids, little boy, like, the hand-me-down Nautica polar fleeces my mom used to put me in…

“So I made the Checkers fleece and I thought it would be a fail, because you could go to Patagonia and buy something for less than $100 and mine were $300. But that was the thing that took off. Buyers kept coming back. And it’s funny because I love fleeces, but I don’t love what they’ve become for me: I don’t want to be pigeonholed that way.

“I do love the shape (above left) I did for Resort ’19, where I made the fleece cropped and boxier. It’s a more feminine shape — cool feminine, versus accentuating your boobs or your waist.”

Blackbird Spyplane: Why do you think ppl can’t get enough MF fleece?

Sandy Liang: “Because they’re everywhere, and people like things they think are popular. Will people still wear fleeces in 2 years? Some will, and some designers will keep making them if they’re in their category, just like they’ll keep making sweatshirts if that’s their thing.”

Blackbird Spyplane: Yr grandmother, Luo Bi Wen, has modeled for you, and you sent over yr excellent personal iPhone stash of Chinatown grandma/grandpa fit pics. Chinese elders are routinely in the top 1% of the best-dressed people in any given city… How do you characterize their style?

Sandy Liang: Ultimately everyone wants to dress like they don’t care, like they just put it together, and cool Chinatown grandmas and grandpas actually don’t care. All they care about is, like, getting vegetables for dinner and picking up their grandkids from school. They wear what they have and don’t think too much about it, and that’s part of the beauty. It’s mismatched and amazing.

When I was at studying at Parsons, they told me to make moodboards, and nothing spoke to me — nothing speaks to me — like my pics from random moments walking around on Mott or Orchard Streets.”

Blackbird Spyplane: When u add it all up, Queens is the coolest NYC borough — how did growing up there shape your way of seeing?

Sandy Liang: “Well, I grew up in Bayside, more the suburbs, close to Long Island. But I do talk about the influence on my design of childhood nostalgia — it’s one constant informing what I do. At Parsons, they’d ask you what you were all about as a designer. At that point you look up to amazing designers, but you haven’t really lived yet, so you don’t have a lot to draw on. But I knew how I felt when I was 15.

“Like, I used to draw all the time. I’d draw Britney Spears outfits, outfits for Destiny’s Child. I’d look at the fashion on, like, the Emmys, and fantasize about that dress or that moment. But my mom was actually very ‘anti’ buying me clothes. It wasn’t because we were poor or anything, but she was so practical. She was like, ‘You’re going to grow out of that in 2 hours, so why would I buy you full-price Gap jeans?’

“She was super frugal, and fashion wasn’t what my parents wanted me to care about. My mom would be like, ‘You’re going to be a bad person if you like clothes and makeup; you should be studying.’ I was taught to not care about clothes—which pushed me to want them so badly.”

Shout out Mission Chinese Food’s Danny Bowien, cheffing it up in a fire Sandy Liang logo-flip tee and acid-wash “Toon jeans”; right, a vibey doll-print SS21 camp shirt / skirt combo

Blackbird Spyplane: We talk about this a lot at Spyplane HQ — how we still gravitate to things we wanted as kids that our parents DENIED us ; )…

Sandy Liang: “That’s 99% of my budget, buying f**king Polly Pockets on eBay! I think, ‘What do I care about?’ It’s what I loved when I was 11. When I bought those Polly Pockets, just smelling them, it reminded me of growing up, hanging out at my best friend’s house, and I felt warm and good.”

Blackbird Spyplane: It’s interesting how our tastes can crystallize in adolescence around dope s**t that we grow to abandon, then maybe fall back in love with later….

Sandy Liang: “Yes! I still think about the marble composition notebooks I used to draw in, and how I could draw for hours and lose myself. And at some point along the way I couldn’t do that anymore, and I felt like a loser. I want to go back to the time when I can dream and draw and not think about, like, fucking taxes.”

Blackbird Spyplane: Another cherished possession u sent over is this Casio digital diary. It looks like a pager and a pocket dictionary in one… what’s the deal?

Sandy Liang: “This is a very high-tech piece! I got this in 2nd grade — I didn’t really use it as a diary, though. It was about the fascination of having this device, and feeling like an adult, and if you had a friend who also had one you could line them up and touch them where the black portion is and send messages. Texting before we could text.”

Blackbird Spyplane: You also sent pictures of a WILD pair of Skechers u coveted as a kid, above right. Maybe it’s a generation gap, but when we were in middle school Skechers were a punchline — dismissed as super ugly, with these big bulbous shapes and cheesy ads. But maybe time has actually been kind to Skechers?? Like, looking at some of them now — or seeing them in that Charli XCX “1999” video — they feel more interesting than they got credit for back then…

Sandy Liang: “Whoa, that’s heavy — for me it’s not that. I have not thought about Skechers in 2021! This is purely about me seeing them on this girl Hayley Landau in 1997 or something. She was really cool, she had her birthday parties at ice rinks and stuff, and she had this exact pair of Skechers, and other girls got them. I loved that they had a heel and were iridescent.

“I begged my mom for these but she said no, because I would grow out of them. I can’t exaggerate how much I thought about these. They consumed me. I hated my clothes and knew these were fire. That was the first time I felt that way. And when I found this screenshot I felt it all over again.”

-Sandy is on Instagram here, and her website is here.
-She recently opened a store at 28 Orchard Street in Manhattan.
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- Every “Blackbird Spyplane Interview,” w/ such luminaries of the arts & sciences as Jerry Seinfeld, Lorde, André 3000, Nathan Fielder, Phoebe Bridgers, Rashida Jones, John Wilson, Emily Bode, Ezra Koenig, Online Ceramics and more — is here.