Listening in on a conversation between Soo Joo Park and Sandy Liang, you would never guess that the model and designer have only known one another for four months. The two met when a mutual friend suggested that Park stop by Liang’s studio. “I ended up staying for three hours, just hanging out,” laughs Park. “I saw one of the pieces from her winter stuff—a fur and shearling coat. I feel a little bad saying this, but I love fur. It was this beautiful pink color, and I’d just never seen something like that from a new designer before,” she continues.
“When I met Soo Joo, I was really pleasantly surprised,” says Liang. “You expect a model who is so established to be a certain way, especially around new designers, [and] I was really new—this is my first collection. But she was so chill. It was like meeting a friend. I could just tell that I liked her.”
Liang first became interested in fashion through watching red-carpet award shows as a child. “It’s corny, but it’s true,” she says. Her family encouraged her to pursue a more practical career path, and she spent a semester studying architecture at RISD before dropping out, moving back to her hometown of Queens, New York, and enrolling in the equally prestigious Parsons. “They were just looking out for me. They understood fashion is just not something that’s easy to get into.”
If there is a Sandy Liang girl, she is definitely a New Yorker at heart. “I design clothes for the girl who’s not obsessed with fashion, but appreciates it,” the designer says. “I see different parts of her in different girls—I see her in Sooj a little bit; I see her all the time in downtown New York. This environment is really great to be inspired by.”
Earlier this month, Liang and Park sat down to chat about Chinatown grannies and Christian Bale.
SOO JOO PARK: How long have you been designing?
LIANG: My first collection, my Fall/Winter 2014 collection, was based on my senior thesis, which I made during my senior year at Parsons. So I would say I’ve been designing since last year.
LIANG: I am a rookie! Yeah. And I’m already sick of my first collection, a little bit.
PARK: Really? Why is that?
LIANG: I see it every day, and I have so many new ideas. I’m a Gemini. Maybe that has something to do with it. [laughs]
PARK: What’re the traits of a Gemini?
LIANG: From what I hear they’re very double-sided, so they get very impatient and bored of things quickly.
PARK: A little finicky?
LIANG: [laughs] Yeah, kind of terrible.
PARK: I’m an Aries, so I don’t know what that means, but I think I’m pretty stubborn. And ambitious. And pretty intense. But, your senior thesis was based on Chinatown, right? Where we are now.
LIANG: Yeah, we’re in Chinatown right now. When I was in school, I noticed how everyone designed—they would have to pick an inspiration, use that as the starting point, and design from there. But for me, it’s really just an accumulation of things that I’ve always loved ever since I was little. Whether it be a movie, a character from a movie, a book. For instance, for my senior thesis I was really into Chinatown grandmas. They wore all these crazy patterns and all these crazy proportions, and it just worked. You could tell they didn’t care about how they looked, [but] I could see them from a block away and I’d be like, “Wow, they look really cool.” They’re not purposely doing anything.
PARK: Right. There are times when I walk by—because I live in Chinatown as well—and I see this 60-year-old grandma and she’s wearing this super cool parka, with this cool print on it. You know how Moncler did that collaboration with Mary Katranzou? It’s like that.
LIANG: [laughs] Everything’s oversized, and they’ll just throw a beanie on top. It’ s just so effortless. I love when girls don’t seem too put-together.
PARK: Yeah. I like that look too.
LIANG: It’s a very fall/winter.
PARK: I love your the top with the nipple ring.
LIANG: Yes! During senior thesis, I had a phase with nipple rings. I thought they were so beautiful, and I was thinking how could I apply that to a garment. You can put crystals on a garment, and put all these details on, but literally piercing the garment and adorning it is such a cool idea. So I went ahead and did that. I embellished these tops with the nipple rings and these Swarvoski crystals. There’s a girly element, and then there’s also a masculine, subversive element, which I find very cool. It’s not always girly, it’s not always masculine, it’s just a little bit funny.
PARK: And the color?
LIANG: I was really into a light pink and ice blue.
PARK: It’s a nice contrast that you have. The nipple rings with this kind of girly, pastel blue.
LIANG: Yeah. I don’t purposely try to change a color because of a specific season—I’m going to use whatever color I’m feeling like, regardless of the collection.
PARK: Do you have a favorite pastel palette?
LIANG: Yeah, for [my] Spring 2014 collection, I’m thinking light pink, ice blue, and dark green. I call it my Jansport green, because it’s that dark Jansport backpack color that everyone had. And then neutral colors—black, grey, and white.
PARK: I had that Jansport in green.
LIANG: Yeah, I had the baby one.
PARK: With the tan bottom.
LIANG: Yeah, and you could put white-out on it and make it your own.
LIANG: I think my childhood really influenced me. You know how your favorite show and your favorite food from childhood always make you happy?
LIANG: I think that’s the same about clothes for me.
PARK: We were supposed to go and see a Hayao Miyazaki film together.
LIANG: We should still do that.
PARK: Which one was it?
LIANG: The Wind Rises. I love his stuff. I love Ponyo (2008); I love Spirited Away (2008).
PARK: My favorite is Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), actually.
LIANG: Christian Bale is the voice in that.
PARK: I love Christian Bale.
LIANG: No, I love Christian Bale! I literally have his face taped to my notebook.
PARK: This was even before Batman (2005). He was in American Psycho (2000)—
LIANG: Yeah, that’s my favorite.
PARK: —And Equilibrium (2002). I was like, “Who is this guy?”
LIANG: This is so funny, before this interview I really didn’t know you loved Christian Bale.
PARK: I’m obsessed with him.
LIANG: I’m actually obsessed with him. People are like, “Brad Pitt…” I’m like, “Whatever, Christian Bale is so talented.” I Google mapped where he’s from. [laughs]
PARK: I didn’t even know he was English at first.
LIANG: I also just saw The Grand Budapest Hotel. I love Wes Anderson. I think one of my favorite movies of all time is The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Margot Tenenbaum is such a cool girl.
PARK: She’s so broken.
LIANG: Yeah, but there’s something fierce about her—cold, but really sensitive.
PARK: Do you see Chinatown grandmas as the Sandy Liang girl?
LIANG: Yeah! The first thing I did with my mink coat was make my grandmother try it on and take a photo of her.
PARK: That’s cool.
LIANG: I don’t take fashion shoots seriously, even though I guess it’s my job now.