Chromat AW17: Bouyancy [in Turbulent Times]

Season after season, the Chromat show remains one of my favorites of NYFW.  Back in February (when this upcoming Fall/Winter season was shown), by the end of the second day of shows, I was feeling a bit worn down and jaded.  A few weeks into this travesty of a presidency, the harsh grey weather in New York seemed like a physical iteration of the mood.  Many shows started to blend together in their sameness, but I had high hopes that Chromat would break the monotony.  I was not disappointed.

Before the show even began, the crowd assembled and the Planned Parenthood buttons on the seats hinted at designer Becca McCharen-Tran’s focus on inclusion and action.  Many favorites were also in attendance, from actress Danielle Brooks (above) to photographer Anastasia Garcia to the lovely women behind Bandelettes (which I highly recommend).

Then the lights went down and two dancers in Chromat’s activewear line vogued out onto the runway.  New Jersey Club artist Uniiqu3 joined for a performance of her song Werk Ya Bawdy, and I was already more awake than I’d been all day.

Sitting front row right by the runway entrance, I was able to hear the final instruction called out to the models: “Walk fast, powerful, strong!”

From the first look (a cropped inflatable jacket worn over a bikini), the theme of keeping afloat in turbulent waters was apparent.  With tousled wet-look hair and strong swimwear, the models could have just emerged from a pounding surf.

Using functional floats molded into unconventional structures, McCharen-Tran gave a visual shape to the struggle of metaphorically staying above water.

Chromat partnered with wilderness brand Klymit for the inflatable pieces, ensuring they were useful as literal buoyancy aids as well.

McCharen-Tran’s architecture background was still evident, with the collection including some of the scaffolding-esque cage shapes that she became known for, but in an entirely different medium.

The authentically diverse runway Chromat has also become known for was back as well.  I was a fan of McCharen-Tran’s designs long before she included her first plus model in a show, but my love for the label has only increased since.  I frequently quote McCharen-Tran when discussing the need for runways that are more representative: When I interviewed her back in 2014, the designer stated that the women in her life are not all one size, body type, or color, so why would her runway be?  The difference between this type of organic inclusion and the tokenizing inclusion of one “other” model amongst a string of tall thin white women is stark.

The resulting casting at Chromat is not only empowering, it is visually striking.

Seeing a variety of women striding powerfully does not detract from the clothing; it augments them.

Denise Bidot has walked in every Chromat show I’ve attended, and I was happy to see her back on the runway for fall.

Chromat also partnered with Bandelettes, incorporating this functional thigh-chafing-prevention into the form of the looks.

This mix of form and function is something of a signature for McCharen-Tran, who envisioned her early collections as literal armor for badass women.  With the rights and very lives of women, people of color, differently-abled, and LGBTQ people under attack every day, this concept feels more poignant than ever.  Adding in the timely symbolism of keeping our heads above water, Chromat adds another dimension to their fashion-forward armor with Buoyancy.

The show closed with model Maya Mones, followed by a powerful final walk.  I was invigorated even before the lights came up and the music switched to the perfect song to sum up our collective feelings.  I left Chromat personally buoyed by the reminder that fashion need not be safe and apolitical.

Editors Note: I wrote this post before the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.  The theme of this show suddenly feels far more literal, as people in poverty are being hit the hardest by the disaster. Lives have been lost, and the current administration’s willful ignorance towards global warming ensures that this is just the beginning of such catastrophes.

The show’s closing message to the ‘President’ is even more salient as even in the face of this destruction, he still couldn’t stop talking about how his crowd size.  We have to continue to resist the normalizing of his narcissism, and one way to speak through action is to

donate to the local Harvey relief efforts