Chromat at NYFW and Interview with Designer Becca McCharen
I am a big fan of striking, double-take-inducing fashion, so I have been a Chromat adherent since I discovered the label in 2012. When it came time to start thinking about New York Fashion Week this year, the first brand I reached out to was Chromat, and was thrilled to receive an invite to their show at MADE Fashion Week (aka the downtown version that more and more young, creative brands are flocking to). I was pumped about the show long before I had any idea that there might be plus models involved.
Then, by the giant virtual grapevine that is social media, I heard rumblings that there would be body diversity in the show, and the anticipation grew. On the day of the show, when the music started and the first model stepped on the runway, I could not contain an excited “Yesssss!” Chromat designer Becca McCharen didn’t just include a plus size model, she opened the show with one – the striking industry veteran Denise Bidot (she’s been modeling for seven years now). The look was just as stunning as the model, with the caged hips an exaggeration of the female form.
The show continued with provocative cutouts and structures; architectural details worthy of a Guggenheim museum; and a solid monochrome palette with occasional pops of red or orange. The designs also incorporated 3D printing in various ways, from face masks to caged bustier cups to pockets adorning a sheath dress. This was the first time Chromat has utilized this technology, which blended seamlessly with the boned corsetry structures that are their mainstay.
Two other plus models, Kailee O’Sullivan and Katy Syme, also walked in the show, and the diversity did not end with the inclusion of curvier models: A variety of races, gender presentations and body types were represented by models on the runway. This is sadly all too rare during Fashion Week, which made the diverse Chromat casting even more remarkable. I especially appreciated that the designs were not toned down or covered up for models above sample size – the same type of edgy, visually arresting pieces were shown on all body types. As I said on Instagram during my post-show high, “Basically, everyone looks good in Chromat.” I think that speaks volumes of the talent of the designer.
A week after the show, I had a chance to chat with Becca McCharen about her inspiration for the collection, and the decision to include diverse models on the the runway. I left the conversation even more excited about the future of Chromat.
The creative process for the Spring/Summer 2015 Formula 15 collection was sparked by a trip to DIA:Beacon’s Sol LeWitt exhibit, where the idea of art as a sort of anarchy – open ended, and not wholly owned by any one person – led to the concept of the body as process art. Whereas last season’s Bionic Bodies collection experimented with the incorporation of technology, for Formula 15, McCharen wanted to move beyond the purely aesthetic “blinky” LED lights, and integrate tech with function. The addition of the MisFit Shine device to the Chromat designs highlighted how tech is interacting with bodies – in a way, making the body into a machine, capturing the data it generates. Visually, the additions were seamless – it wasn’t until perusing the detail shots post-runway that I noticed the devices as such. McCharen hinted that future collections will take this theme of technology’s impact further, going as far as to reframe the human body. I am intrigued, to say the least.
One thing has remained consistent throughout collections: Chromat has always been about armor. McCharen explained how customers consistently express how “strong and powerful” they feel in the bold pieces. That empowerment is purposeful, and part of McCharen’s goal. The inclusion of a variety of body types in the show and collection stemmed from that goal, and was very natural for McCharen. She noted that in her day to day life, there are women of all sizes, gender expressions and races, and it just makes sense to reflect that on the runway. Of runways that present only one race and body type (white and skinny), she said: “Its just not modern.”
McCharen’s message of women’s empowerment through fashion and inclusion really resonated with me. Hearing her discuss the show’s diversity as something organic – not forced or tokenizing – was refreshing. Indeed, “fashion for all” has been reflected in the Chromat philosophy from the start: McCharen has always offered custom sizes for customers outside of the straight size range (she said she’s made bustiers and bras up to a G cup). By having both straight and plus models in this season’s NYFW show, McCharen hopes to spread the word on the Chromat Curve line, which will offer the same innovative styles for a wider size range. This will include having a full range of sizes available to try on at the Chromat studios and in stores (and since I can never understate the importance of trying things on, I am beyond thrilled about this development). Chromat shot a full Curve lookbook with Denise Bidot, which should be out within the next two weeks. You can also shop all the looks from the SS15 runway right now on the Chromat website.