The 32-year-old designer knows what you’ve been talking about.
It’s been erroneously assumed, at one time or another, that the mark of a good artist is their ability to create discord (in other words: you know you’re that bitch when you cause all this conversation). Sandy Liang, despite her unobtrusive storybook-waif trappings, is one of those artists who compels that discord. Since her Spring 2018 Ready-to-Wear collection, arguments (mostly online) have abounded: are her trademark bows overdone? Do they reinforce stereotypical textures of femininity — and, if they do, is that profound enough of a statement? Are people who loathe the bows anti-feminist? Does her brand rely on a frippery motif that cannot be sustained? These arguments are circular, constant, and navel-gazing, and don’t seem to recognize that an object’s power is not inherent but assigned.
So it goes without saying that Sunday’s FW24 show — unofficially dubbed The Super Bow — is, much like what happened at Helmut Lang, an anticipated brand crossroads. If Liang wanted to respond to the debates of last season and make a statement about where her eponymous label was headed, it would be now (the designer hasn’t shown for Pre-Fall since 2019). Her show notes, written by Nicolaia Rips, follows a schoolgirl who grows up to a princess. She emerges from the ocean, borne out of seafoam; her little bag, a silver star fallen loose out of the sky, is for new-world trinket-gathering. “Illusions [are] everywhere, on her wrist and on her collar, but she knows who she is,” Rips writes. “The collection is an ode to wearing your clothes, to growing up a little without sacrificing what you love.”
Liang did renege on the bows, ever-so-slightly; their most flagrant uses were on an asymmetrical Baker-Miller pink ribbon dress and on the upper bust of a starchy long-sleeve blouse, both of which felt like leftover B-sides to SS24. The rest of the collection kept Liang’s playful inventiveness, but slicked it under a demure patina: here are well-cut turtlenecks over eggshell midi-skirts; tweed-blend bateau necks; fuzzy teddy coats over 30 denier stockings; sturdy, long-sleeved black dresses made for convent living; honeyed mohair; ballerina boots. This was Liang’s response to it all: don’t care, didn’t ask, the bows are staying — but this is the last fairytale. Time to come into the real world.
In that, FW24 is a classic transitional collection, and reminded me a lot of the turnover years at Blumarine and Anna Sui — especially as all three are whimsically feminine brands that have occasionally puckered under the ultrasweet. You could sense Liang teasing maturation during FW23, but the following season, with its seashell coin purses and its big fluffy bows, felt like a cowering back into the cave. A lesser designer would’ve followed that lead (especially since her just-as-bow-ified home collection did so well), but Liang clearly recognizes the importance and blithe risk of instinct.
Not everything is fully-formed, here, and I imagine these ideas will need to get a bit tighter by the next go-around if they want to stick — but there is something admirable about an artist who is willing to look toward the future with conviction, not capitulate to online babblings, and not sacrifice the things that make them sing. 🌀
You can view the Sandy Liang FW24 collection here.