Everything Sandy Liang designs turns to gold. Not literally, of course — the New York-based designer is the antithesis of try-hard ostentation for ostentation's sake. But the beloved downtown fashion darling has managed to quietly usher in an entirely new era of feminine-forward style that consistently attracts the city's top tastemakers, so much so that her girlish motifs — as well as myriad knockoffs of them — eventually weave their way into the collective dialogue with such ubiquitous regularity that it's hard not to pay attention.
Now, with a sold-out Baggu collaboration, an adorable pet line with Little Beast, three successful Vans collections, a range at Target, a home line, a Salomon collab, thousands of fast-fashion copycats and a vast online community DIY-ing her products, we've officially arrived at fashion's peak Sandy Liang-ification.
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The sharp rise of the coquette aesthetic is the most immediate example: While we've seen the trend blossom across the pond with brands like Simone Rocha, Miu Miu, and even Cecelie Bahnsen dating back to her Copenhagen shows, Liang's iteration is grounded in New York sensibility — straight down to the (relatively) approachable price point.
In fact, the designer has been adorning babydoll dresses and pleated skirts and ballet flats with bows for half-a-dozen seasons now — all to consistently lucrative fanfare. But if we rewind a few years to pre-pandemic days, when she presented collections inside Congee Village or Mission Chinese — two L.E.S. staples with deep connections to Liang's Chinese heritage — it was the brand's oversized, gorpcore-era fleece jackets, often styled with baggy sweats and sneakers or a gauzy midi dress (as seen in the designer's Spring and Fall 2019 collections), that first found major success.
Later, of course, came the influx of bows and ruffles and rosettes, all infantilized to the perfect degree: enough to serve as a declaration that womanhood can, too, be girlish — rather than a solemn reminder of what was. So how exactly did Liang become the hottest ticket in town?
"Sandy is a born-and-raised New York City designer, and what does NYFW stand for if not a designer from the city and its culture?" says stylist Taylor Okata, who credits Liang's breadth of cultural inspiration as well as an unwavering authenticity to her own style for the brand's popularity. He attended her second-annual Lunar New Year party last week to celebrate the Year of the Dragon along with Imani Randolph and Ella Emhoff.
"Designers often use iconography that speaks to them, and Sandy's downtown state of mind intersects beautifully with nods to the zeitgeist. For her, it could be a bow or a flower; she really leans into that because she also knows her audience. You can tell she designs for herself first, and people pick up on that authenticity."
While quiet luxury was taking hold of everyone above 14th street, Liang remained steadfast: In 2021 and 2022, she leaned in on whimsical tulle dresses with puff sleeves and mini skirts and dresses that served after-school vibes, all designed for the times with escapism in mind. For her Spring 2023 collection, we saw ballet core take hold with her pointe shoe-inspired Mary Janes and knee-high socks and even more ruffly hems that would immediately trend on TikTok. Fall 2023 leaned further into this aesthetic, wrapping it up with a bow (or 20).
Fast forward to Spring 2024, where the designer took a deeper look into dress codes — how we abide by them, play into them, and how they can encourage a sense of belonging, even unconsciously. Of course, wearing the same thing as your friends isn't a new phenomena, but Liang's style direction, lead by longtime collaborator Dean DiCriscio, makes every decision feel that much more intentional.
"[Liang] creates clothing that's not only wearable and functional, but isn't simple or minimal," says Luke Meagher, the fashion critic and personality behind @hautelemode, who also says there's a specific thirst for women designers who exist among their own customer. "Those romantic elements — the roses, the ruffles, the flares, the baby doll elements — those things all speak to Sandy's clientele. Her show is a big ticket because she has a genuinely dedicated customer base that loves her sense of nostalgia."
While the brand is stocked everywhere from Ssense and Kith to Tokyo mainstay Beams, Shopbop was an early buyer of Liang's, says Caroline Huang Maguire, the retailer's Fashion Director. "Her designs are relatable, effortlessly feminine and super on-trend," she says, noting that the Shopbop customer loves her bow embellishments, fleece pullovers and mixed-media gingham. "The brand offers such thoughtful, novelty items that our shoppers always gravitate toward."
Looking to the season ahead, it's hard to say if Liang will give us more of the same — though Meagher was quick to point out that many of her Spring 2024 designs felt refreshingly new.
"Sandy has a lot of ties to New York and she understands the importance of a puffer coat to just living and surviving here, but last season was a little bit of a departure," he says, noting that the capri pants and micro-minis felt more Y2K than in past collections. "I have a feeling Sandy's going to explore a little bit of the mid-to-late aughts nostalgia."
Meanwhile, Randolph, who's modeled Liang's runway collections on more than a few occasions, says the one thing she pays close attention to is Liang's music choices. "I always leave Sandy's shows with a couple new — or forgotten — songs. For the Fall 23 show, it was Charlotte Gainsbourg's 'Deadly Valentine,' and at the party there was some cunty '00s pop but also some head-banging rock. None of it feels out of place because though her designs have a delicateness and purity to them, contrast, and even humor, all have a place in Sandy's world-building."