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The magic and playfulness of a ‘Sandy Liang Girl’

A graphic showing some of fashion designer, Sandy Liang’s pieces on a runway. Liang’s brand provides a refreshing playfulness lacking in traditional adult-marketed clothing today. ILLUSTRATED BY JERRY WEINTRAUB/THE STATESMAN

A 20-second TikTok trend can teach you how to dress like a Sandy Liang model or become a “Sandy girl” — but what does that entail? Countless celebrities have already adopted the title of a “Sandy girl”; this includes Olivia Rodrigo, who wore a custom Sandy Liang red bra and pleated skirt to the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards and Jennie Kim of BLACKPINK, who posted her visit to Sandy Liang’s New York City store on Instagram

New York City native Sandy Liang started her viral clothing brand in 2014 after finishing college and in 2019, her line of colorful fleece jackets caused a popularity explosion. Her brand has since become known for its functionally nostalgic and coquette designs. Examining the outfits closely, the designs and motifs of the fashion brand draw a lot of Chinese cultural inspiration.

The recent Spring/Summer 2024 Sandy Liang New York Fashion Week show continues to build on the brand’s popular designs and silhouettes, such as pleated skirts and Mary Jane ballet pointe shoes. Although the collection was inspired by Sofia Coppola’s film “The Virgin Suicides,” it suggests that the popular “Barbie” and “The Little Mermaid” fashion trends have not disappeared just yet; the shell motifs, pearl accessories, soft pink palettes and gingham patterns that are present in the pieces are still prevalent in the fashion industry months after the films’ theatrical premieres. 

In a previous release, the elements of girlhood and playfulness are perfectly embodied in the font choice of Liang’s Luna Tee. The front reads “Sandy Liang” but swaps certain letters for recurring symbols seen on some of the brand’s past designs. The “As” are swapped with rounded stars, the “Ns” with rotated crescent moons, the “Y” with a ribbon bow, the lowercase “i” is dotted with a heart and the “G” is encapsulated within a flower. 

Similar whimsically feminine motifs appear throughout her brand. The frequent incorporations of bows and flowers in the pieces resemble the signature Sandy Liang look. These delicate themes are featured throughout her immediately sold-out collaboration with BAGGU — a brand that sells accessory and reusable bags. The collaboration put a spin on BAGGU’s popular Mini Nylon Shoulder Bag with newly attached bows on the sides of the strap, inspiring fans to similarly accessorize their bags. 

Another standout is the Flower Market Plaid pattern that references Liang’s Chinese heritage and puts a spin on the popular Migrant-Worker Plaid print. Migrant plaid bags, also referred to as Red-white-blue bags, were originally made of nylon canvas  — a fabric typically used to farm or install temporary roofing. The fabric’s cheap price, lightweight and durability made it a common material used in Hong Kong to design bags that are mainly marketed towards laborers and migrants so they can easily transport their belongings. As for the other bags in the collaboration, Liang adds her personalized floral motif to the ingenious Red-White-Blue bag design for the ultimate nostalgic and whimsical Flower Market Plaid colorway.

Liang often designs with her heritage and childhood inspirations in mind. She credits her Paw-Paw — Cantonese for grandmother — as an inspiration and showcases her on Instagram donning her pieces. Grandmothers who live in Chinatown also serve as recurring inspirations to Liang. “Everyone’s always trying to be effortless and cool,” Liang told Bon Appétit. “But the grandmas are the ultimate — they actually don’t care.” 

She even incorporates photos of Chinatown grandmothers with their bold fashion patterns and shopping cart trolleys into her mood board-styled Multicolor Saltine Tank Top. The shirt’s print resembles the inspiration collages Liang often posts on Instagram that include images reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films, “Sailor Moon,” school girl uniforms, Polly Pocket toys and various shops in Chinatown. 

These inspirations manifest into the minute details of Liang’s brand, such as the swirl embellishments that mimic the iconic pink swirl found in the middle of a Narutomaki, a Japanese fish cake, as well as sequined anime eye prints on both the Elphy Top and the Dwight Dress. There is even a dedicated section on her website for school girl uniform-inspired garments and a Quilt Necklace that references “anime sparkle” graphics used to express shifts in emotion or enhance an anime character’s attractiveness. 

Rooted in elements from both her Chinese cultural heritage and pop culture, Liang’s brand provides a refreshing playfulness lacking in traditional adult-marketed clothing. Through nostalgic motifs, Liang infuses a touch of magic through her fashion designs and accessories, aiming to replicate sentiments of childhood that the “Sailor Moon” comics gave her growing up. The designs and motifs of the brand capture the hearts of those wanting to embrace their inner girlhood, extending an open invitation for anyone to become a “Sandy girl.”

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