Looks by I-am-Chen, left, and Rizhuo.

Fashion, like love, is a universal language, a fact that was underscored by China Cool’s four runway shows on Wednesday that introduced three established and two emerging brands during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Spring Studios. And while the China Cool designers spoke through interpreters, their clothing needed no translation.

“We’re known as the gateway to the Chinese consumer,” said James Lin, head of fashion, North America at Tmall. “We brought five Chinese brands that have a point of view to New York Fashion Week to walk the runway. We want to encourage new voices and give established Chinese brands a platform.”

Peacebird is one of China’s top multibrand retail and fashion labels; popular intimate apparel label Threegun incorporates science and technology with fashion; Rizhuo expresses its peaceful values with loose, structured shapes; conceptual artist Song Ta’s Songta label features bold images and characters, and I-am-Chen founder Zhi Chen, a recent Parsons School of Design graduate, was a semifinalist in the 2018-19 International Woolmark Prize Hong Kong.

Prior to launching his collection, Songta’s designer was a conceptual artist. 

The five were chosen after Tmall asked the brands to interpret several trends “to see how the trends fit into their collections, like a ‘Project Runway’ situation,” Lin said, noting that the challenge included designing utilitarian outerwear, oversize blazers and oversize ruffles; using jewel tones, and designing with second skin tech fabrics typically used for innerwear.

“China Cool is the embodiment of heritage trends and street trends we’re seeing in younger consumers,” said Lin said. “The Chinese consumer has seen everything. The market is saturated. Chinese consumers are more discerning, and they want more newness. They want new textiles and fabrics and new experiences.”

“I feel our brand could do really well in the U.S.,” said I-am-Chen designer Chen in an interview following her show, which was inspired by photographer Kourtney Roy. “The market for independent designers is booming. Everything is very fast in China.”

Rizhuo assistant designer Lixia Chen said U.S. consumers are more utilitarian in the way they dress, while the Chinese “think about what outfit to wear to reflect how they feel inside. A lot of young people are very label and brand-conscious. For small and independent brands, I see women thinking for themselves. They want a brand that resonates with them.

“I’m inspired by the state of mind of young people in China,” she added. “The theme of the show is about how lots of young people leave home and go to the cities to work, then go back home for Chinese New Year, which is a bittersweet time.”

Holding long black umbrellas as if they were swords, Rizhuo’s models wore inky-colored pants or long skirts with jackets cinched with corsets or leather belts with silver balls at the end. The looks were topped with skullcaps or unusual hats that were a cross between an oversize sun hat and Sally Field’s habit in “The Flying Nun.”

Threegun’s collection in a neutral color palette, was all about the fabric and shape with elaborately layered bodysuits that also had intricate cut-outs, jackets with lattice back panels, vests with exaggerated pockets, and splattered paint and tie-dye patterns.

Song Ta said the younger generation is drawn to his designs. “I like the diversity of young consumers,” he added. “They want to stand out and be different and unique. I want to uncover commercial exposure to retailers and customers.”

Pop-up shops and personalization are two buzzwords for Tmall. An example of the former can be seen at 315 Spring Street, where Tmall’s pop-up shop, which operates through 6 p.m. today, features apparel from the five brands in a space designed around mountains, water and roof edges, which are significant in traditional Chinese culture and reinterpreted using modern materials and design.

Innerwear brand Threegun is moving toward ready-to-wear. 

Lin said Tmall tried to create the unexpected by pairing brands from different categories for cross-over hybrid product mash-ups. Collaborations include Chinese confectionary company Hsu Fu Chi and clothing brand Tyakasha, Chinese snack brand Qinqin and fashion label Mukzin, Dove Chocolate and Hefang jewelry, and home furniture brand Ziinlife and Chow Tai Seng jewelry.

“More than anything, we’re seeing that brands have to engage with consumers differently,” said Lin. “For example, with exhibitions and capsule collections. Chinese consumers are hungry for American brands.”

Tmall this year established a trend insights research center for the fashion industry, based on Alibaba‘s AI predictive analytics and big data combined with qualitative insights from trendsetters. Tmall is leveraging its new forecasting capabilities by partnering with fashion brands that interpret the trends. The company said it’s using the data to strengthen its position and identify innovative brands that can capture consumer interest.

“This is only the start of bringing Chinese designers to the U.S. market. China is a manufacturing powerhouse and consumer-buying monster. We offer the brands the platform to show at NYFW. We have buyers in the audience. All of the shows are being live-streamed and will be streamed on every brand’s Tmall storefront.”

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