PHOTOS BY DILLON SACHS
With each passing season, the union between fashion and technology seems to grow ever stronger—with the latter coming to terms with the importance of wearability and aesthetically-pleasing design. Chromat is leading the charge on the sartorial side, having partnered with Intel on their Spring 2016 Momentum collection, they have seamlessly melded designer Becca McCharen’s architecture background with sportswear and scientific knowledge.
The collection included pieces such as the enthralling Adrenalin dress, whose sensors enlarge the piece’s carbon-wire lattice back with ascending levels of the hormone—as might the wings of an insect—giving all new meaning to the term “adrenaline rush,” and the Aeros Sport Bra, whose vents immediately unlatch or close depending on the temperature of your body and your perspiration. The latter utilizes Curie—a module designed by Intel (not even Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown could have imagined this).
McCharen is also addressing issues of diversity within the industry. Though designs are looking more like the futuristic pieces we envisioned when we were growing up, fashion is still quite antiquated when it comes to representing the faces and figures of the multitude of women who buy into the industry. McCharen’s latest catwalk show featured several models of color as well as plus-size models Sabina Karlsson and Denise Bidot. It’s no surprise that she was one of the finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund this year, with Diane von Furstenberg going on record to describe her immense talent in an interview with Business of Fashion.”
We caught up with McCharen in her studio to discuss what the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund process was like, her diffusion line BOND, and why Kim Kardashian is a goddess.
You’re now a part of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund family. What was that process like for you?
Transformative. Validating. Illuminating. Creative. I would have never dreamed I would be bonding with Diane Von Furstenberg, or sharing laughs with Anna Wintour. It’s been a dream come true for someone from the small town of Lynchburg, Virginia who had a Vogue subscription at 16.
That opportunity undoubtedly opens a ton of doors, as does mentorship. How do you figure out what’s best for your brand to move forward with and what isn’t? How do you stay on track?
The mentors and judges from the fund have validated what we see in Chromat as our focus: empowering women with well-fitting swim, lingerie, and athletic wear combined with an emphasis on innovation through nontraditional materials and new technology.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from the CVFF mentorship [CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s mentorship program sees established designers mentor young brands for a period of one year]?
Going through the process further emphasized that as a fashion label, we should always explore what makes us curious and inspired, versus just designing for gaps in the marketplace or to reach sales goals.
When you were pursuing a degree in architecture, did you ever think you’d end up putting those skills to use for a fashion line?
No, never. I grew up in Virginia. I’d never met a fashion designer before in my life. This was before Project Runway, and I didn’t even know it was a job that someone like me could do. As a teen, all I saw was the consumer-driven side of fashion through magazines and TV. It took me many years to realize at the center of the industry were artists: people who were interested in materials and creating new things.
You describe your pieces as “structural experiments for the human body.” Is that how you see fashion? As experimentation?
Yes. Coming from architecture, we treat the body as a building site; an opportunity for material intervention, augmentation and enhancement.
You’ve delved into lingerie, swimwear, sportswear, and your trademark cages. Are there any other categories you’d like to explore?
I love the transformative power of makeup, and how accessible it is. I’d also love to collaborate with my architecture friends and work in built environments again.
Talk a little bit about your diffusion line, BOND by Chromat. What led you to embark on that?
BOND by Chromat grew out of our desire to create something carefree and fun, using more color and print. We hope to see BOND continue to grow as an accessible gateway into the Chromat world.
“There is a severe and damaging under-representation of diversity—race, size, and gender spectrum—in mainstream fashion and popular media today. The feeling of being invisible in an industry or culture you participate in is so damaging and hurtful. I refuse to participate in the silencing and erasure of all the many diverse forms of beauty and inspirational women that exist in the world today.”
You collaborated with Intel to take wearable tech to the next level. Do you see “smart clothing” as the next frontier of fashion, much like the way smart phones have changed technology and communication?
One hundred percent. Just like buildings change and adapt to users (through operable facades, ventilation, circulation), clothing should do the same. Your garments should be able to adapt to your body and your environment as you move through spaces and time.
I also believe 3D printing has the potential to change fashion in the same way that MP3s changed music. Imagine a world in which each fashion collection was available for instant download online, on iTunes (or perhaps iPrint). You could then apply your personal body scan data to the print file, adjust the file to custom fit your shape and preferences, and then print the clothing out in your home.
There is so much left to be discovered and it’s something I stay up late thinking about.
You’ve commented on the lack of female designers at big fashion houses. What do you think is the reason for that? Would you ever design for another brand if given a chance?
There is a lack of female designers at big fashion houses because of our history of patriarchy, of course. The fashion system has been owned and operated by men and sold to female consumers for centuries. The university I graduated from only started allowing women to attend 45 years ago: imagine how different the world would look if that gender bias were reversed. It’s so disturbing that men are dictating what we as women wear and how we view our bodies.
Would I ever design for another brand? Definitely! I’ve dreamed of having the tools, material, budgets, and access to research and development labs and technical staff of large fashion companies. The process of innovation could move so much quicker if our team was bigger. Right now, Chromat is just 4 staff and a few interns. A lot of people are surprised by that.
You’ve featured plus-size models Sabina Karlsson and Denise Bidot on the runway, as well as offering a Curve line. What do you think of the current state of fashion’s size issue? How are you hoping Chromat will move the conversation along?
We design clothing for strong, powerful women in whatever shape and form they inhabit. There are absolutely no rules and no boundaries on who can and cannot wear Chromat.
However, there is a severe and damaging under-representation of diversity—race, size, and gender spectrum—in mainstream fashion and popular media today. The feeling of being invisible in an industry or culture you participate in is so damaging and hurtful. I refuse to participate in the silencing and erasure of all the many diverse forms of beauty and inspirational women that exist in the world today. Women of all races, sizes, and gender presentations are doing big things and inspiring the next generation—they should be celebrated in fashion!
You’ve named Kim Kardashian as your dream Chromat girl. How important is red carpet dressing for you? Are there any other stars you would love to see in your designs?
Kim is a goddess. I love seeing women succeed at all levels and if you can make it look easy and effortless (like she does), all the better for you.
Red carpet looks haven’t been a focus at Chromat, but maybe they will be in the future. Our structural language can be applied to the body in many different ways.
As far as whom I’d like to see in Chromat, Björk tops the list. She represents a constant focus on experimentation and fearlessness. Each new album she creates is completely different from the last and that is how we at Chromat approach each new collection.
Photos DILLON SACHS