It was either a 16th century English scholar or Blac Chyna who first said that necessity is the mother of invention. Until the fact checkers respond about that one, the sentiment can also be attributed to Brooklyn-based designer Tony Liu. In 2007, fresh from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago—where he dropped out of the fashion program to pursue a degree in fine art—Liu was looking to establish a career in New York and strike out on his own. As any recent grad can likely attest, that process included a lesson in balling on a budget.
“I used to spend all my money on designer clothes,” the New York native tells Complex. “But, I needed to move into my own place and didn’t have money to spend on clothes anymore.” So, Liu did as any self-respecting, fashion-conscious shopper with a limited cash flow would: “I was wearing Uniqlo all time,” he says.
Eventually, a steady diet of Japanese fast fashion got old. “I needed something in between,” Liu explains. “A little bit fashion, but easy enough that you don’t have to think about what to wear it with.” Thus, his menswear label You As, now available in its first season, was born.
Liu’s concept for You As is to create clothing that guys can wear for years. Although the collection is slightly retro-tinged—with an easy-to-spot ‘60s influence in the cut of a wool bomber jacket or the contrast stitching on a denim shirt, for example—he strives for timelessness. “It’s about taking those classic pieces and updating them a little bit so they’re current,” he says. “I really want these clothes to be worn beyond a season or two.”
He hopes a personal connection between his clothing and his customers will encourage a lasting relationship between the two, an idea the name You As references. “I’m a child of immigrant parents, so clothing for me was always this exploration of identity and how to express outwardly something that I feel inside,” Liu says. “It’s not something that’s superficial or surface value. It’s something that’s very empowering. It’s about the aspiration—you can be this. You as this, you as that—whether it’s something that you are or that you want to be.”
Liu has already received a stamp of approval from several very important aspirational names in fashion. Eternally influential retailer Opening Ceremony is the first boutique to carry You As, and Vogue took notice of a particularly timely styling quirk in the lookbook for Liu’s upcoming Spring collection: a pair of pink Crocs. Liu maintains that the release of the lookbook just as Crocs are enjoying their status as a low-level fashion trend was purely coincidental. “My friend [stylist Kang Kim] styled the lookbook,” Liu says. “She was wearing Crocs for a long time before, and I never really understood it, but I was like, ‘Hey, that’s your thing. Let’s do it.’ I think it definitely helped us to stand about from other brands a little bit.”
Don’t expect that early attention to influence Liu’s design ethos for You As, though; he’s fully committed to classic style, trends be damned. And although he’s moved beyond “all Uniqlo, all the time” in his own wardrobe, that same point of view applies to his personal style, as well, lending his designs another layer of authenticity. “There are macro things I succumb to—ripped jeans or something like that,” he concedes. “But I don’t think you’ll see me wearing Gosha anytime soon.”