Posted by steven yatsko | December 4th, 2018

The Eternal Sunshine of Sandy Liang
Model and muse Fernanda Ly takes the New York designer’s must-haves for a spin and the two friends talk everything

Meet the mastermind of those must-have shearling-sleeved and fleece coats that float around downtown New York City. They’re an increasingly familiar sighting and have gained popular appeal. Since starting her eponymous line in 2013 after Parsons, Sandy Liang has built her brand from the ground up into an in-crowd favorite, growing notoriety beyond just her Lower East Side nucleus. Even so, it was just across the street from her studio at her father’s restaurant, Congee Village, where she held Spring/Summer 2019 presentation. There amongst the eclectic pageantry of the downtown Cantonese eatery, models and friends, like chef Danny Bowien, of the cult-restaurant Mission Chinese, happily wore Sandy’s latest collection standing as a testament to a growing village of her own. With her community as a litmus test, Sandy humbly turns out wearable staples that are every inch upbeat.

Fresh off an apple-picking trip, Fernanda Ly and Sandy talk their respective callings with each other for Models.com. Read the entire conversation below.

Photographer : Steven Yatsko for Models.com
Stylist : Sandy Liang
Make up : Ai Yokomizo
Hair Stylist: Takeshi
Manicurist: Nails by Juan

Model: Fernanda Ly

FERNANDA: I don’t know that much about how your brand started.

SANDY: I started after graduating from Parsons. I graduated in 2013 and I started with my first collection, being Fall/Winter ’14. It was a lot.

FERNANDA: That’s when I graduated from high school.

SANDY: I know, I’m old.

FERNANDA: No, you’re not. Was it your graduating collection?

SANDY: Yes. My senior thesis was in 2013 and that’s how I was able to make my first collection because half of it was from my senior thesis collection which was already paid for because my parents helped me with that because it was school stuff. The other half I made some stuff and then I also just got it done locally. As I told you, I followed all these cool people on Instagram and I would just send them an email and write, “Hey this is what I’m doing, I would love to show you the collection in person, let me know if you can come whenever.” At first, it was crickets and then one person came, and then she posted about me on Instagram and then eventually Kate Foley, who used to be the buyer of Opening Ceremony and she is now a stylist, she came and then she posted about me and featured me in this Vogue thing.

FERNANDA: Oh!

SANDY: And then from her, the buyer from Browns emailed me and was like, “Hey! I love your stuff, send me the line sheet.” I said, “What’s a line sheet?” The way I was pricing things was––I had only interned when I was in school, I had never had a real job before and I’m super bad with numbers––so it was just, “I think that coat looks like it should be like this price.” It was a ridiculous collection because you know I love outerwear and so it was 90% outerwear and 2% somewhat wearable jeans and leather pants and a leather overall. But it was pretty cool. I mean, I got buyers. I got maybe six stores which was a big deal for me.

FERNANDA: In your first season. I think it’s really cool.

SANDY: Yeah, now that I think about it. Now that I know how hard it is to get in any store.

FERNANDA: Or to have a brand and to bring it up.

SANDY: I remember going to this fabric wholesaler during my first collection and saying, “I’m trying to launch my first line.” They were like, “Well, how much money do you have to do your first collection?” And I said, ”You know I think I’m gonna spend around ten thousand dollars for everything, including the lookbook shoot and whatever.”

FERNANDA: Is that a lot?

SANDY: They said, “Uh, honey, you’re gonna need at least a hundred thousand dollars to do one proper collection.” And then that’s when I started realizing that in this industry there are so many “proper” ways to do things.

FERNANDA: Right.

SANDY: There’s a right way to do everything, but more and more, I’m realizing now: There isn’t––You figure out your way to do it, and then you do it. You do what’s right for you.

FERNANDA: Did you end up making it with just ten thousand?

SANDY: No. They were right to some extent but I definitely didn’t spend that much money.

FERNANDA: Out of budget!

SANDY: The collection was based on when I was doing my senior thesis collection at Parsons. The teachers would be like, “Pick an inspiration and then draw me fifty designs, edit it down and that’s your collection.” I remember thinking it’s so weird that everyone is picking a painting or a famous artist or a building to be their inspiration because to me that’s just a thing, but I can’t feel anything from that, you know? I can make clothes that look like that building and whatever, but it doesn’t make me feel happy. So I started thinking back to what actually inspires me. I just looked in my phone and I was looking through photos of random stuff that I took of Chinatown grandmas and of their pants––how they’re wide but cropped and the floral prints. Literally, I have photos on my wall. It looks like these grandmas are wearing Marni tees. It’s so beautiful, right? But the reason why I gravitate towards that is that they don’t care what they’re wearing. They just wanna make dinner for their family.

FERNANDA: They just want to get their groceries.

SANDY: And they wanna pick up their grandkids from school. So I really gravitated towards that plus this area (Chinatown), which you’re pretty familiar with.

FERNANDA: Yay! I like when you had your grandmother wearing your coats.

You figure out your way to do it, and then you do it. You do what’s right for you.

SANDY: My grandma is my number one inspiration. Were you here for Hurricane Sandy?

FERNANDA: No, I wasn’t.

SANDY: It was when the city blacked out. People had to go to Dunkin’ Donuts to charge their phones. Nobody had electricity, even us. It was crazy, but I’ll never forget that night there was the blackout and the next morning my brother, thank god, had a car in the city, so we could drive to Flushing.

FERNANDA: Flushing was okay?

SANDY: Flushing was completely fine. People were going to dim sum in Flushing. I remember leaving our apartment, because we lived together at the time, and my grandma was running down the street with her stroller cart thing, and she had made all this food on this stove top thing and she said, “Oh my god, I was so worried that you guys wouldn’t have food so I made you all this food.” I told her, “Grandma we’re going to Flushing, we’re fine, do you want to come with us?” She was like, “No I’m fine.”

FERNANDA: Aw, that’s so grandmotherly.

SANDY: It’s the truest love.

SANDY: Okay, so let’s talk about how we met. How did we?

FERNANDA: At that event where they had the flowers, the really pretty setup.

SANDY: Yup, with all the macarons, and we were just focused on the food. Everybody else was socializing and we were going to the food room and bringing food back to our table like it was a buffet.

FERNANDA: Oh, yes.

SANDY: So that’s how we met.

FERNANDA: Yes. When was that? More than a year ago?

SANDY: You have a really good memory. Before we get into just you as a person, I want to know what makes you happiest when you think about it?

FERNANDA: Happiest? Oh, my dog (Tang).

SANDY: How old is Tang?

FERNANDA: A year and a half-ish. I feel like my life went from zero to one hundred after getting her.

SANDY: I feel like most people wouldn’t think that about you because they see you on magazines or editorials and they’re probably like, “Wow that girl is so happy that she gets to do that,” but at the end of the day your happy because you have a dog in Australia.

SANDY: What’s your favorite food?

FERNANDA: Obviously, it’s soup since Tang’s name is Tang.

SANDY: Do you like dessert soups or savory soups?

FERNANDA: I like both, I don’t discriminate against soup.

SANDY: Do you like clam chowder or French onion soup?

FERNANDA: Clam chowder is so American. I think I tried it once and was like, “What is this?”

SANDY: So you like Asian soups?

FERNANDA: Yeah, noodle soups.

SANDY: Do you like bird’s nests?

FERNANDA: Yeah, I like eating the papaya, though.

SANDY: For all of our fancy dinners my dad at Congee, he’ll put the bird’s nests inside the coconut and then he’ll steam it inside the coconut so after you eat the bird’s nests that are infused with coconut you scrape up all the coconut meat. This is what you missed out on after apple picking. (Sandy is referring to a recent apple picking trip together) And then for Moon Cake Day and Chinese New Year’s or for a birthday, we’ll have tangyuan, which is the sticky dough balls, inside bird’s nests in a bowl. Have you been watching “The Great British Bake Off”?

FERNANDA: No, I should watch it. I was gonna make banana bread today.

SANDY: My…this is deviating a lot. So, first of all, when did you start modeling?

FERNANDA: When I was seventeen.

SANDY: How old are you now?

FERNANDA: Twenty-three. I was in high school still.

SANDY: That’s crazy, I wasn’t even a real person in high school. Were your parents always super supportive of that?

FERNANDA: I didn’t tell them about it. As in: I did everything by myself and I went to the agency by myself. Then, after that, I couldn’t sign because I was underage. They had to come with me and my agent was really good at convincing them.

SANDY: And they were okay with it? I feel a lot of Asian parents are: “Don’t do that, do the thing that’s gonna be the safest option for you.”

FERNANDA: Yeah, yeah.

SANDY: That’s great that it worked out that way.

FERNANDA: Somewhat.

SANDY: How has modeling shaped you as a person?

FERNANDA: It made me able to talk more; I used to be super quiet. I didn’t say anything even more than now. I don’t talk that much now, but still, before not at all–nothing.

SANDY: I guess because people somewhat expect that out of you, right? I can relate to that on some scale because I think people think that because I’m a fashion designer that I should be going to all these parties and all these premieres or whatever, and you know me, I so am not that person.

FERNANDA: That’s me, too, they force me to go to events and I don’t want to go.

SANDY: I mean, sometimes it’s cool.

FERNANDA: I’ll go if I have to, or if I’m interested in what it is, or if I’m super into something, but otherwise no.

SANDY: Yeah and for me it’s obviously different. I’m not going because people want to see me there and want to take photos of me, it’s just expected to participate in this fashion-y world, right?

FERNANDA: You have to make the connections, that’s what it’s for.

SANDY: I know! I hate that because just the idea that something could happen inorganically makes me cringe, that you would have to force it. Would you consider yourself a creative person?

FERNANDA: I think naturally I’m more creative than academic.

SANDY: Hells yeah, I can’t do math for shit.

FERNANDA: I could at one point but then after high school it just left my head.

SANDY: What other creative things would you want to do? I only learned this recently about you, but what about the whole baking thing?

FERNANDA: Oh yes, I just like making stuff. Even random, like in school with clay, it was, “Yeah, yeah I’m gonna make stuff!”

SANDY: You know what we should do? We should go to Color Me Mine.

FERNANDA: What’s that?

SANDY: Okay so you go to this pottery place and what you can do is you choose all these paints and you just paint it. Do you want to see the mug that I made for my dad?

FERNANDA: Yes.

SANDY: That’s the mug.

FERNANDA: Oh, that’s cute! That’s like stuff I’m into.

SANDY: Considering your upbringing, how has your background influenced you and your mentality?

FERNANDA: Aye Chinese tiger mom, yeah! No, I think work-ethic-wise.

I remember thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe Fernanda is so great at being so alive.”

SANDY: It’s sorta like not complaining.

FERNANDA: You’re probably the same as well.

SANDY: You just put your head down and you work.

FERNANDA: You just keep going, keep working and then when it’s done––okay, you rest. You have to work hard.

SANDY: Maybe it’s about taking work really seriously. You know? But also not so seriously where it’s being true to yourself and your boundaries, but also working hard.

FERNANDA: When I’m working I will properly work.

SANDY: I know! At the shoot I was so tired I wanted to kill myself. Sorry, Steven! No, but I remember when I came home, two of my toes were numb and I was like, “Dorian massage my toes, I can’t feel them.” Because of standing up all day. Maybe I have bad circulation, but I remember thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe Fernanda is so great at being so alive.”

FERNANDA: When I take a break I’m like, “Aah. Goodbye. Oh? We’re shooting? Okay hello.” Just reviving…I use my energy when I need to.

SANDY: Has the job changed since you first began?

FERNANDA: A thing that’s changed is the models, what they look like has completely changed. When I broke out it was the same season as Lineisy Montero. She was the first one with natural hair. She had a baby afro for Prada. Then there was me and colored hair. Before that, I think girls with natural hair had to straighten their hair, that’s really sad, and then someone goes with natural hair, which is cool.

SANDY: Are there any other things that you’ve noticed?

FERNANDA: I feel like it is not as white.

SANDY: That’s great! That makes me so happy to hear!

FERNANDA: Yeah, right?

SANDY: Maybe this isn’t pertaining to the question, but do you feel it’s because Chinese pockets have gotten so much deeper and they’ve become so much more fashion-conscious?

FERNANDA: Oh yes, everyone knows that the money is in China.

SANDY: How do you feel about that?

FERNANDA: I don’t know. Sometimes I’m like, “Am I really Chinese? I sound Australian.”

SANDY: I’m like that when I go to China.

FERNANDA: And over here it’s, “I’m Australian. I’m Australian.” They’re like, “What are you?” “I’m Australian.” “What ARE you?” “Where are your parents from?”…I’m from the land of pink-haired people.

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