Becca McCharen of buzzy Brooklyn-based fashion line Chromat has charisma that lasts for days. She’s tall with bright orange bangs, and a personality far more gracious and warm than you would expect from a self-professed feminist and one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. i-D visited Becca in her Greenpoint studio, a high-ceilinged, white painted room in a labyrinthian warehouse, stocked with sewing materials, past collections, and a smattering of employees and interns, all fixated on their delicate handiwork.
With six incredible collections under her belt, Becca McCharen has a lot to be proud of. Describing itself as a “structural experiment for the body,” Chromat marries highly technical construction with fashion. Each of Chromat’s collections pairs armour-like endoskeletons with elegant shapes to assert a seriously sexy vision of female power. Just ask Beyonce, who recently commissioned pieces for her On the Run tour.
Having studied architecture at school, Becca “became obsessed with scaffolding.” She lights up like one of her custom LED bras when she recalls her earliest inspiration, “I had one teacher who was an architect and she had built this Philip Johnson-like glass house. On the facade facing south she had built scaffolding, and then using shade cloths from the farm [traditionally used to shade crops] she built these blinds on the permanent scaffolding so you could manipulate the sun coming into the house. That really spawned this obsession with the internal structure of buildings and the internal structure of clothes.”
“[I worked as an architect] for many years after graduation. The clothing experiments happened in my off time from work. I would come home and just make things for myself and my friends and then eventually it snowballed into something bigger. I started to want to do something more based on a concept; I’d have one concept and then I’d make 50 things about it. I started making little collections and that’s where Chromat came from.
The practice of making clothing at Chromat is a technical one, and every stitch, every line, every joint is a precisely thought-out conception. Everything on a Chromat design has a purpose, nothing is superfluous. Chromat has a very steady vision that involves using the rationale of math and science to create power pieces that accentuate the human body. As early as her second collection for AW12, Becca challenged archetypal femininity, using shapes from Disney bodies and idealized cartoon proportions to warp and reimagine the female silhouette.
Becca explains her current spring/summer 14 collection as being “inspired by mathletes. We were thinking the archetype would be a NASA astronaut because they have to be physically fit but they also have to be geniuses in their fields. [It’s about] people using science and math to build stronger, more athletic bodies.” The brand’s concern with scientific themes continues into the fall season: “We’re building stronger, cyborg bodies based around when humans and computers merge into one. This is the first season we worked with LEDs and programmable software where the clothes actually change and move based on your movement. It’s our first foray into fashion tech which I’m really, really into.”
“We’ve been really lucky because when we started Chromat it was all cage structures and these architectural structures and it was experimental and weird. But in 2012, we started using those structures and that language to build swimsuits and the swimsuits really took off. That’s been our economic driver, and the way that more mainstream audiences can interact and be in the Chromat world. It’s easier to wear, it’s something you would actually wear to the pool or a party... It allows us the time and resources to do weird shit and experiment.”
As the conversation turned from the technical to the cultural implications of Chromat’s work, there's the question on everyone’s minds: what was it like working with Beyonce? Having provided costumes for two tours now, Becca gushes, “Working with Beyonce is awesome because she’s also sort of our hero and muse. She’s using all this power, digital power, technological power, it’s about the harnessing of this empowerment. Wearing Chromat makes you feel really strong and powerful, so when Beyonce wears it its like an explosion. Because she is THE power bitch, you know?”
Chromat has also dressed Madonna in lingerie for her world tour, as well as constructed a white full body cage for Nicki Minaj. Becca says, “It’s been really cool to work with these strong powerful women because they’re our inspiration.” We talk about using fashion for female empowerment. According to Becca: “The kind of people I surround myself with are creative women, doing their projects and making their dreams come true. That’s the world I live in, so that’s all I know. Empowering women is definitely not a new thing and it’s really important in womenswear especially. When you’re making women’s clothes you want them to feel like a better version of themselves when they're wearing those clothes.”
Feminism is important to Chromat, in all its forms. Becca hopes to expand her wheelhouse in the future, designing Chromat’s lingerie to fit plus size women. “Gender is definitely another big part of Chromat. Does power have a gender? That’s something we question,” she tells me confidently. With a theoretical vision and a finger hard on the pulse, Becca McCharen for Chromat is one to watch.