It’s now halfway through September’s New York Fashion Week and one thing is becoming clear: New York is the place to experiment.

NYFW has always been a little scrappier compared to similar events in Milan or Paris, a theme that has continued to this month’s event.

“New York [Fashion Week] has always been a little…” said Peter Davis, former fashion columnist for Paper, gesturing with his hand a plane heading nose-first for the ground. In February, Business of Fashion’s editor-in-chief, Imran Amed, expressed a similar feeling, hand gesture included.

On the other hand, some have enjoyed the direction NYFW has taken. “There have been a lot of venue changes recently,” said photographer Joe Jagos, who has shot NYFW shows for the past eight years. “I like it. It’s nice to move around and not be stuck in Lincoln Center.”

The general vibe around New York Fashion Week is that it’s a little less prestigious, a little less elaborate, and a little looser than fashion weeks in London or Paris.

But it is within that gap between NYFW and its European counterparts that brands are finding room to experiment.

J. Mendel eschewed a traditional runway for its spring 2019 collection, favoring a free-roaming presentation of sheer, lighter-than-air dresses which gave one the feeling of being at a country club on a lovely spring day instead of hiding from the miserable rain outside.

“It’s important for us to be present at fashion week,” said Gilles Mendel, creative director of the brand. “But it’s been undergoing an evolution. Everyone is showing in so many different ways. For us, what works best is a presentation where you can come and see the clothes up close.”

NYFW comes with a little less pressure than Paris or Milan’s fashion weeks, giving brands the room to try new things.

“It’s half the amount of brands,” said Vanessa von Bismarck, co-founder of the PR and branding company BPCM. “A lot of brands are choosing to do movies or events or just lookbooks, and they use the extra money for activations throughout the year. Paris is much more serious; London is more elaborate. A lot of European brands are not spending the money flying over here and are just focusing on Europe.”

The absence of big European brands in New York this week has also left a space for one of fashion’s most exciting markets: China.

For China Day, Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Tmall sponsored three shows of Chinese brands, ranging from the new (Particle Fever) to the experienced (JNBY) and in-between (Angel Chen).

Tmall has long been the premier window for non-Chinese fashion brands looking to sell in China, but today was all about the opposite: highlighting China’s own fashion brands and positioning them to sell abroad.

“We’ve always wanted to be the gateway between China and the rest of the world,” said Jessica Liu, president of fashion and luxury at Tmall. “These three brands represent the diversity of Chinese fashion and the potential it has outside of China.”

All three brands were showing in New York for the first time, and the experience was equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking.

“I was a little nervous,” said Lin Li, chief coordinating officer of JNBY. “In China, we get the whole day for the show, but New York is so busy and so short.”

But if the Chinese brands had any self-doubt behind the scenes, none of it showed on the runway. Angel Chen’s highly buzzed-about New York debut was particularly striking, including a shoe design that can only be described as if someone cut the enormous sole of a Balenciaga Triple S sneaker off and somehow turned it into a sandal.

The Chinese brands were well-received by the soaked New York crowd, signaling that the fashion and luxury boom China has been experiencing may be just as viable outside the country as it is within.

Overheard

“I actually met Ivanka and Jared at one of these events like 10 years ago. They offered to take a picture with me, but I was like, ‘God, no. That would be so tacky.’ I really wish I had taken that picture now.”

“Where are you going?”

[Laughs] “To class.”

“Let me come to class with you!”

-A model, trying futilely to hit on a girl climbing into an Uber after the show

Coverage

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Starred

Later today, Proenza Schouler is making its grand return to New York after skipping the previous year in favor of Paris, making them one of the only brands from last year’s mass European exodus to return to New York. Spring and spring/summer collections from Libertine, Anna Sui and Gauntlett Cheng will hit the runway, while Kozaburo and Veronica Beard will offer presentation-style shows.

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