Fashion Designer Sandy Liang’s Nostalgic Reflections on New York

The fashion designer Sandy Liang has been trending for her heart-shaped ballerina earrings and satin Mary Jane shoes. Her designs take inspiration from the styles of the 90’s and reflect the brand’s downtown New York City roots.


These are flower patterns that are commonly used in the patterns of Sandy Liang’s pieces. (Photo Credit: AnonMoos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this year, as I was  walking down Orchard Street in Manhattan, I spotted a line snaking around the corner and down the block. It was hard to miss the spirited mass of people in flowered fleeces, patch-work embroidered Sherpas, and asymmetrical poplin skirts. At first, I had thought the spectacle was an extension of the then ongoing New York Fashion Week. After all, it was as if a Pinterest board had materialized onto the streets of New York. Intrigued, I followed the growing line and discovered the Lower East Side’s resident fashion one woman empire, Sandy Liang. 

Sandy Liang has been pioneering the fashion landscape of New York. Coined the “New York Princess,” Sandy Liang’s pieces are ubiquitous; you are guaranteed to see someone dressed in one of her pieces on almost every block, whether it is a pair of dainty bow earrings, Mary Jane ballet flats, or a casual fleece jacket. Her pieces are a staple in the closets of many New Yorkers, and this is because she truly understands the essence of New York streetwear. 


Liang was raised in Bayside, Queens and is an alumna of the prominent math and science specialized high school, Stuyvesant. Besides spending much of her adolescence taking the hour long commute between Bayside and Tribeca, she was often found in New York’s renowned cultural neighborhood. Her father operated Congee Village, a restaurant established on the outskirts of Chinatown. Liang’s frequent visits to Congee Village entailed quality time with her grandmother, whom she affectionately refers to as “Paw Paw” (Cantonese for grandmother). 

As a child, she was not allowed to indulge in clothes or accessories. Similar to most children, her interest in fashion sparked from her rebellious desire for the forbidden. “When I was growing up, my mum never let me spend money on clothes. Buying clothes was a shameful thing for me…Because of that, I think I’ve always looked at clothes as this really unattainable, magical thing,” she said.

After graduating from Stuyvesant, Liang, facing pressure from her parents, came to the conclusion that fashion was too much of a risky endeavor, and pursued a “safer route.” She began to take architecture courses at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). However, after one semester, she craved the fast-paced and exciting environment that a fashion career would offer. Most importantly, Liang jokes, “I love that I get to wear my own clothes, too. I can’t do that with buildings.” She transferred from RISD to Parsons School of Design, and graduated from the competitive college in 2013. 

While most recent graduates search for jobs at other fashion companies, Liang was intent on starting her own immediately. Sandy Liang’s beginnings are rooted in 62 Rivington Street, in the storage cellar of her father’s restaurant. After a renovation, it served as her first studio, where she designed and curated new pieces. It was in this creative space that she produced her first series of campaigns, featuring her grandmother. 

When she first entered the fashion scene in the Fall/Winter season of 2014, Liang had her grandmother model her pieces on the streets of Chinatown. When explaining her vision behind the photoshoot, she said, “The way I design everything is super personal. I’m always referencing my life. It seemed natural to me to ask my grandmother. Chinatown grandmothers were actually my first inspiration.” 

True to word, most of the collection was built around the effortless style of these “Paw Paws,” a reflection of their disregard for the material world.  “I was drawn to my grandmother’s clothes because of the fun prints, and the specific shape of pants that her and all these other Chinatown grandmas wear…there are always clashing prints, but it never actually clashes — it just works. It’s their attitude: ‘I don’t even know what I’m wearing. I don’t even care,’” Liang said. 

In 2018, she decided to transform the cellar into her first in-person store. She furnished it with velvet seats, pink sofas and countless mirrors, but kept the beckoning Maneki-neko figurine and antique porcelain vases by the door. The space was an intimate integration of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, a cultural duality that is often explored in Liang’s collections.

In 2020, the flourishing designer opened her first store in Dime Square (the micro neighborhood cushioned between Chinatown and the Lower East Side), just a ten-minute walk from her cellar studio.  

Style and Inspiration

The innocent joy and sentimental wistfulness of her designs are shaped by the fond memories of her childhood. In fact, Liang’s studio walls are lined with elements of the early 2000s, in the form of color swatches, fabric patches, and collaged images. Recall gym scooters, animal shaped rubber bands, pencil case boxes, or fidget spinners. Although these items are all seemingly unrelated, yet they are moments from her childhood that feel complete when integrated. 

This is precisely Liang’s design process – mindlessly gathering colors, patterns, images and other items associated with sweet moments from her past. “I think about what makes me happiest – it is my childhood and the magic and questions that came with it. I reference nostalgia a lot in my work, and it’s because I think child-like happiness is the purest and truest thing, and designing is almost my way of getting to that place again, even if just for a fleeting moment,” she said. 

She she arranged grainy scenes from early Japanese animations with the 18th century shawls and dresses featured in Little Women. The two subjects are completely irrelevant – not only are they from different sides of the world, but also, one is an animation, while the other is a live-action. Liang adores working with these contradicting styles. “I’ve always been fascinated with things that have two qualities that are either opposite or conflicting,” she said. Although admittedly dissimilar, these two unlikely aspects join to replicate the elegance and purity in feelings of child-like excitement. At a closer glance, you realize why they create this vision, as Little Women is a coming of age film starring romantic and hopeful sisters, while early Japanese animations often feature whimsical colors and dreamy doe-eyed characters. 

Following the themes of elegance and innocence displayed on this mood board, a baby-doll eyelet dress was born. The eyelets formed dainty flowers, which were splayed across the dress in inconsistent patterns. The puffed sleeves and scooped neck added a feminine touch, a reference to the styles seen in Little Women

Liang’s Recent Endeavors

Although the success of her fashion career is largely shaped by her iconic fleeces, Liang has different thoughts. “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,” Liang said. Staying true to her statement, in the Summer/Spring season of 2022, Liang busied herself with a new sector of fashion – footwear. Not only did she launch her first in-line footwear collection, but she also collaborated with the famed Vans shoe company. This year, she debuted with French footwear brand Salomon, pioneering fashionable and practical sneakers for women. 

Even though she has only recently been experiencing immense success designing footwear, her fascination with them can be traced back to her elementary years. “Growing up in New York in the ’90s, sneakers were such a big deal. There was no alternative. You went to school, you wore sneakers. You went to hang out with your friends, you wore sneakers,” Liang said. She recalled that her first sneakers were Skechers. The rhinestone decorated, light-up Twinkle Toes and chunky iridescent sneakers might ring a bell for many of us. Skechers was the go-to shoe brand for most 2000’s kids, before the Converse and Nike franchises began their rise to fame. Despite sneakers being a staple for Liang, a sighting of Air Force Ones in a music video marked the first time her young-self truly appreciated the design of a shoe. As she grew older, she interacted more with “sneaker culture,” beginning when her brother introduced her to the then trending SB dunks, a timeless street-wear staple that continues to sell out today. 

In the ever-changing fashion industry, New York has remained an unwavering fashion capital. When confronted with “New York Fashion,” people automatically consider an ocean of black – dark sunglasses, sleek black blazers, crisp suits, and stiff loafers or heels. It is a stagnant image of office-workers rushing to their nine-to-five. Sandy Liang paints New York in a different light. Through her photographs in front of subways, Chinatown fruit stands, or in the “suburbs” of Queens, you can already envision the authenticity of her brand. Instead of playing into a superficial image of New York, Liang refers to the city as home, a community that has raised her through her childhood, to the growth of her brand. The true appeal of Sandy Liang is her nostalgic reflections of girlhood growing up in New York. 

To see Sandy Liang’s latest collection, click HERE.

The innocent joy and sentimental wistfulness of Sandy Liang’s designs are shaped by the fond memories of her childhood.