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Xu Ying, the designer director of Chinese streetwear brand Peacebird, wore a T-shirt featuring Elmo from “Sesame Street” surrounded by Chinese writing and graffiti-style art while the brand’s show was being set up at Pier 59 in Chelsea. The Elmo T-shirt was emblematic of what the designer said was a major theme of the show: the increasing fusion of Chinese and Western culture in fashion.
As part of the CFDA’s annual China Day at NYFW today, Peacebird was one of a few Chinese brands that made their debut in the American fashion scene, along with fellow Chinese brands like NPC and Refuse Club. The show, which incorporated elements of Chinese and American streetwear and cultural trends, made that overlap a central theme, something that Ying said was an intentional strategy to help break into the U.S., an important market for fashion in general and for Chinese fashion in particular.
“Peacebird is pretty famous in China,” Ying said. “Its very popular with young people in China. So we came to NYFW to emphasize the convergence of Chinese and Western culture, because we wanted to develop an audience with young people here, too. We take Western culture and traditional Chinese characters and present it in an international way that will be appealing to younger customers. That’s very different to how we did it in China.”
China has increasingly become a major force in fashion, although until now its strength has mostly been as a consumer force. But over the last few years, Chinese brands have been working hard to get the same kind of exposure in the West that Western brands have in China.
NYFW has been a major gateway for those brands. Last season, Chinese brands like Angel Chen and Particle Fever made their big American debut at NYFW, supported by Chinese commercial giant Tmall. The Chinese brands showing this week expressed similar sentiment with regard to NYFW’s importance for Chinese brands.
“This is our 10th anniversary, but it’s actually our first fashion show ever,” said Will Pan, co-founder of NPC, another Chinese brand debuting at NYFW. “Our first show is here in the west. It’s been an honor to do NYFW for your first show. New York is the capital of fashion. We’re hoping it will be really impactful for us as we try to develop a U.S. audience.”
But for all the talk of bridging the gap between China and the U.S., most of the designers don’t think it’s any intrinsic difference between Chinese and American fashion tastes that make it difficult for Chinese brands to break into the market. In fact, the similarities between the two is part of the reason why these brands are interested in crossing over.
“The challenge is really the same as it is for any brand, said Nic Li, co-founder of NPC, through co-founder Pan who translated for him. “Fashion is worldwide. It’s universal. Fashion trends really aren’t that different in China than they are in the U.S. Streetwear is popular, people wear sneakers, a lot of it is the same. But for us, the hard part is just getting people here familiar with the brand. That’s why fashion week is so valuable and important to us.”
For American brands, those that have been showing at NYFW for years, it can be easy to forget the strategic importance of the week for building a brand audience, generating buzz and, most importantly for Chinese brands, developing relationships with buyers. While brands like Michael Kors or Marc Jacobs, both of whom also showed or are showing today, don’t need fashion week to build an audience since they already have an audience in the U.S., Chinese brands are relying on NYFW for more practical purposes.
“Compared to shows in China, shows that happen in New York are a much bigger platform for brands to show off to media, buyers, customers,” said Wang Mingfeng, general manager of Peacebird. “There’s more freedom and space to show the brand. It’s an important window and part of the strategy to break into the U.S. market.”
Three questions with…Hillary Kerr, co-founder of Who What Wear
How many years have you been attending NYFW?
I’ve been attending for 13 years, approximately.
How have influencers changed the event? How is that most apparent this season?
They’ve hugely changed the event. It truly used to be a trade show for working editors and buyers, and the like, and people just wore the exact same things they’d wear to the office. It was very down to earth. Now, with the rise of influencers and street style, it has become a seen-and-be-seen event, with everyone dressing their absolute best. Influencers have also largely taken the place of celebrities and socialites in the front row. There are still a smattering of the latter, but they’re much less common than in days past.
How have the shows/presentations themselves evolved? How is that most apparent this season?
Just the fact that there are so many presentations instead of shows is a huge shift. And the fact that there’s not as much of a centralized location—save for Spring Studios—the way there was in the past with the tents at Bryant Park. It seems most designers want the vibe that comes with selecting their own location for a show, and there has also been a huge uptick in presentations over shows. I think it’s smart, in many ways, because you get more time to interact with the clothes in a presentation setting, though I will always have a soft spot for a produced runway show, too.
“My tapes!” – A frazzled crew member setting up for the Peacebird show as dozens of rolls of tape rolled down the runway
“I swear I’ve gone up and down the elevator ten times looking for the bathroom. This place is a maze.” – a model lamenting the difficulty of navigating Pier 59 where China Day was held this season
‘There’s a lot of confusion’: The changing job of the NYFW fashion photographer
How Adidas Originals is using fashion week as a launchpad for new collaborations
NYFW Briefing: Why NYFW designers are hosting second shows in LA
Tonight at 6 pm, Marc Jacobs will be closing New York Fashion Week with the final show on the official CFDA calendar.
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