Scaffolding, Witchcraft And Beyoncé – The Many Faces Of Chromat
It’s often the rebels and nerds, whose spaceship makes a wrong turn and lands unexpectedly onto planet fashion, who make the most interesting designers. Until not long ago, architect Becca McCharen was "turned off by fashion," but switching scale models for mannequins has now culminated in her label Chromat’s first-ever runway show this week.
The Chromat product itself defies definition – another sign that something radical has arrived. If Azzedine Alaia collaborated with Renzo Piano on costumes for a latter day Sally Bowles, it might come close. It sits somewhere between underwear and "scaffolding for the body," although as all smart designers should, she has figured out her bread and butter. Clean-lined, sporty, sculpted lingerie and swimwear constructed from hi-tech corset boning are the accessible ready to wear counterpart to her oversized caged couture. And thankfully it is all manufactured in Queens – perish the thought of what might come back if she sent her sketches over to Chinese factories. (Although I wouldn’t mind seeing her fashion take on the Shanghai Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium.)
She might be in fashion now but her problem-solving approaches still stem from her rigorous training. It is the "intersections" that fire her up. “First you study the site. In architecture it’s a building site; you’re setting the context and the other buildings around it. In fashion you’re studying the body, like what areas of the bodying you’re working with – the armholes, all the different measurements.”
It’s no surprise Beyoncé fell under her spell and has worn Chromat on multiple occasions, most recently at the Grammy’s last weekend. And speaking of spells, lest you get the impression that Becca falls into the rational, scientific school of thinking, she also surrounds herself with the supernatural. She and her girlfriend / business partner Christine Tran (who is producing the show this coming week) are part of The Witches of Bushwick collective.
Like Chromat, the Witches collective defies definition. It seems to fall somewhere between a hipster séance and feminist call to arms. “For Chromat, we’re so into bad bitch women – women doing things that are bold and strong. Witches bring these women together and it’s this collaborative spirit at their parties.” At any one of their weekly sessions, astrologists and tarot card readers might collide with local creatives in inspirational pow-wows to get artists’ names up in lights. One of the leading luminaries in the magic circle is Claire Fitzsimmons, aka Miss Fitz, who is working as the creative director on the Chromat show. After studying Political Philosophy, and “years of fruitless anarchical activism," she now turns her hand to anything and everything – styling musicians such as Peaches and Marilyn Manson, producing events for Opening Ceremony and Dita Von Teese and now working as production manager for contemporary artist Desi Santiago.
While the jury is still out on whether witches can affect artists’ futures through spirituality, Becca has laid concrete plans on how technology will take fashion into another dimension. “I’m super into adaptive fashion, wearable tech. Some of the stuff you’ll see on the runway this season is our first attempt at doing some wearable tech stuff.” She is working with light-emitting devices that tell the story of the new collection, which is a love affair between a human and a robot. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or are she and Spike Jonze tapping into the same zeitgeist? Anyone watching the Chromat show out there with an iPhone, please ask Siri, and submit her responses to us at :
Photography by Amanda Hakan