Connected \\ January 14, 2021
The woman behind the brand
Eyeing the diversity of ensembles in Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion, one can’t help but gravitate toward a royal blue high-cut swimsuit made from velvet. Next to it is a piece equally intriguing — a long sleeve printed swimsuit that looks as if the model just stepped from the ocean, still dripping with water.
The two swimsuits designed by Becca McCharen-Tran on view in Made It and now part of the PEM fashion collection. Becca McCharen-Tran, Dana Scruggs, For Chromat, Wet Launch Suit, from the Saturation collection, Spring/Summer 2019. Printed lycra and nylon. Museum purchase made possible by the Anna Pingree Phillips Acquisition Fund. 2020.10.2. Becca McCharen-Tran, For Chromat, Velvet Highline Suit, from the Ten collection, Spring/Summer 2020. Velvet lycra. Museum purchase made possible by the Anna Pingree Phillips Acquisition Fund. 2020.10.1.
The designer behind both looks is Becca McCharen-Tran — founder and creative director of the sportswear line Chromat. Since 2010, she and her team have pushed the envelope of what defines fashion to create bodywear for customers she calls her “Chromat babes.”
For decades the fashion industry has celebrated a very specific type of beauty: thin, white, young, cisgender, able-bodied. “We wanted to make sure our runways explode the idea of that narrow definition of beauty,” said McCharen-Tran. Her brand leads the conversation on gender fluidity and body acceptance, while designing pieces for Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. As Vogue writes, “If there is a boundary, Becca McCharen-Tran is ready to push it.”
Blue velvet highline Chromat swimsuit, featured in Made It, worn on the runway by model Jovanna Marie.
The designer (top) laughs with PEM fashion curator Petra Slinkard via Zoom.
Becca McCharen-Tran recently spoke with PEM’s fashion curator Petra Slinkard as part of our GenPEM Artists from Home series. A condensed version of their virtual conversation follows.
Petra: Tell us how your journey began. What made you transition from studying architecture to fashion?
Becca: The first collection I did was out of my bedroom in Virginia. I had never met a fashion designer in my life, but I had a sewing machine and I liked taking the ideas I formed from architecture and using materials I got from Goodwill to create pieces. I moved to New York in 2010 and thought I’d have to continue working in architecture. But I got an order from a store and I sewed everything and shipped it off. Then I got another order. Three months later it dawned on me that I never had time to apply to a real job, so that’s where I decided that Chromat was my real job.
P: Where did you come up with the name Chromat?
B: I’m obsessed with organizing things monochromatically, like rainbow order. Chromat is derived from the Greek word for “color.”
P: The fabrics you use are very intentional. How do you conceptualize your collection?
B: Every collection is drastically different. When I moved to Miami, we made a collection focused on climate change and we’ve done others inspired by 3-D printing or art exhibits. Fashion design is a way for me to synthesize the world and understand my feelings. Our fabrics are actually made from recycled fishing nets in Italy. Divers grab the nets from the bottom of the ocean. The nylon is melted down and turned into nylon thread that’s then woven back into the fabric that’s used in our swimwear.
P: Chromat makes a conscious effort to show your collections on trans and non-gender conforming models. Tell us about how you cast your shows.
B: The runway shows have always been a celebration for me. When I first started out, I was begging my friends to model for me and so that reflected who I was around at the time, being in the queer scene in New York. The casting that you see today is all thanks to Gilleon Smith, my co-collaborator. I also recognize the responsibility we have as a fashion label to show the world we want to see. If I can use the platform I have to celebrate friends and inspiring people around me who haven’t historically been at the center of the industry, then that’s what I want to do.
A snapshot of Chromat’s spring 2019 ready-to-wear collection during New York Fashion Week.
P: Tell us about your experience producing the short film “Joy Run,” by Tourmaline and Reebok.
B: That film came together beautifully. We focused on high schools that are trying to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports. A lot of athletic legislation comes from the top down, so that's why we looked at the Olympics because whatever rules the Olympics set is what the NCAA is and what high schools follow. The Olympics could make decisions to be more gender inclusive but they are actually doing the opposite where they're banning athletes who don't conform. Creating this film was to capture this idea that it's important to give each person the control over their own body to determine who they are and how they want to compete.
A clip from “Joy Run,” which strives to reimagine all athletics as a gender-inclusive space.
P: You are a sportswear and swimwear line. What would you say to people who discredit sportswear as fashionable?
B: I'm not so worried about categories anymore. Our goal at Chromat is to create garments that are augmentations of the body in whatever form that takes. Is sportswear unfashionable? I don’t know. The older I get the less I care about these categories. Just wear what you want to wear and what makes you feel good.
The conversation shifted to questions from the audience.
Q: Tell us about where you get your inspiration in 2020.
Becca: This year has been a point of reflection. I’ve been taking classes at the University of Miami on Black feminist theory and I am currently in a class on Marxist feminism. I’m taking this time to start absorbing again and regenerate.
Q: Can you describe your creative process?
B: What I love about fashion is the speed. Every six months you stop what you’re doing, finish it, put it on the runway and are on to the next. It always starts with a mood board with me and the team. We do pencil sketches, then fabric swatching and start making samples of the sketches. Then we do it in final fabric on the runway and decide what we want to sell, go to our factories to do production, shoot the campaign, put it on our website and start shipping it.
Q: What are you envisioning next?
B: I'm continuing to explore how I can utilize our production to make sure everyone who is making the garments is equally as empowered as the models who wear them. I'm thinking more about the inner workings of a company and how that can be tweaked and changed.
TOP IMAGE: Photo of Becca McCharen-Tran by Art Streiber.
ABOUT THE SERIES
The GenPEM Artists from Home Series was created as a way to spotlight living artists whose livelihoods were greatly affected by COVID-19. Featured guests include DeMane Davis, Moe Pope and Zarah Hussain. This is co-hosted by Trevor Smith, Associate Director – Multisensory Experience, Curator of the Present Tense, and Kerry Schneider, GenPEM and Development Communications Officer.
Join us for the next one on Thursday, January 28, with creator OJ Slaughter. Go HERE for more info and to reserve tickets.