It wasn’t too long ago that a high-concept label like Chromat would be considered radical, even subversive, and have a hard time finding a market.
But the New York-based label founded three years ago by urban planner Becca McCharen is suddenly everywhere — on concert stages, in Hallowe’en costumes, decorating celebrities, in fashion editorials, and in a rapidly growing number of fashion-forward wardrobes.
Most lingerie brands aim to turn up the erotic heat, but Chromat goes the other way: it’s simply the coolest label in the market today.
Who else would have the cajones to try this:
That’s right, it’s a leather mask and matching kit inspired by the persecuted Russian protest group Pussy Riot, which used balaclavas to conceal their members’ identities. Chromat is, as far as we know, the only fashion label anywhere to offer a full-on designer treatment like this to demonstrate its support for the jailed activists. (Alas, the Pussy Riot headpiece is not for sale; it’s a promotional one-off for Chromat’s next collection, called Riot Box.)
Chromat made a splash over the past few seasons with its visually arresting lookbooks filled with cage-like corsets, body harnesses and strappy undergarments featuring graphic cutouts and angular silhouettes that play off against a woman’s softer contours.
Its whimsical current collection, Cool World, is inspired by the 1992 movie of the same name in which animated characters tried to live in the real world. Chromat uses cartoon-like skeletal frames to create “exaggerated constructions of femininity” in pieces like a Jessica Rabbit cage dress, a three-dimensional cone bra and even a Minnie Mouse headpiece.
As cool as all this is, it’s still challenging stuff from a fashion standpoint: you can’t exactly wear Chromat to the office.
Designer Becca McCharen knew that back in 2010 when she walked away from a career in architecture in order to devote herself to her after-work hobby: creating structural undergarments and selling them as one-offs. With a degree in architecture design, Becca was working in her hometown of Lynchburg, Va., doing revitalization and urban redevelopment in the city’s historic downtown.
The enthusiasm generated by her bespoke creations inspired her to move to New York and give fashion a shot.
“I wanted to have some kind of cohesive collection each season, so I quit my day job,” she said. “Architecture gave me the tools and framework for how to design and how to go through iterations of an idea, but you don’t get to build as much as an architect.
“More than anything, I’m a maker. I love making things, putting things together.”
“I definitely played with Barbies like other girls and liked making little outfits for them. But I also liked making houses for them too.”
Becca, 28, is one of very few fashion designers with no formal training of any kind. In fact, she says, as a child “it never crossed my mind to be a fashion designer. I didn’t realize that was an actual job.”
“Fashion design was not part of my growing up,” says Becca, whose mom was a nurse and whose dad worked in computers. “I didn’t know any fashion designers. I definitely played with Barbies like other girls and liked making little outfits for them. But I also liked making houses for them too.”
By the time she quit her planning job, Becca was already getting orders from New York and had lined up a showroom (International Playground) for Chromat. But the future was far from certain.
“When I quit my day job I had no idea,” she said. “I thought I would have to take a full-time job as an architect in New York. But I kept getting orders. Then, three months later, I thought ‘Oh shit, I still haven’t looked for a job yet.'”
Today, Chromat’s six-person team is filling orders year-round from a workroom in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard and selling in cities as diverse as Las Vegas, Tokyo and Hong Kong and more. Here’s a recent staff shot (Becca is second from left):
For Becca, the transition from urban design to fashion undergarments was really just a matter a scale: taking the same critical eye and diagrammatic aesthetic that she once applied to the built environment and turning it on the human anatomy.
You can see that aesthetic most in Chromat’s core cage collection of bodywear pieces that have been described as anatomical “scaffolding”.
And despite the theoretical and academic approach to her work, you can also see the influences of contemporary fashion stars. Notable (and obvious) influences include Gaultier (Becca admits to being a Gaultier “geek” and maintains a blog devoted to him) and McQueen, both of whose experiments in turning the human skeleton into a fashion device are vital keys to Chromat’s aesthetic.
You can also see other disparate influences ranging from NYC leather artist Zana Bayne to Bordelle‘s bandage wraps and cage dresses to Nichole De Carle‘s geometric lingerie designs inspired by cathedrals. It’s a testament to those trailblazers that Chromat’s look isn’t quite as radical as it would have been on its own; still not exactly the fashion mainstream, but familiar enough to make such a bold indie venture viable.
Inevitably, Chromat’s dramatic styling attracted interest from celebrities, including Nicki Minaj and Madonna, both of whom wore Chromat pieces on their latest concert tours.
Madonna wears Chromat’s kimono harness (above) in her current MDNA show, and her backup dancers wear a collar-harness ensemble from the label. When Madge played Yankee Stadium this year, Becca and her team got great seats. “It was really amazing to see our pieces on stage,” she says. “We were just screaming our heads off.”
Chromat’s Spring 2013 collection marks a couple of major steps in the label’s evolution — a new swimwear collection and a deliberate effort to “soften” the profile of its structural pieces to make them more adaptable as both accessories and layering pieces.
Still, Riot Box, as the name suggests, belongs on fashion’s ferocious fringe and was inspired not just by Pussy Riot but other “fearless women and feminist punks” like Joan Jett and the 1990s radical NYC artists’ movement Guerrilla Girls.
Chromat’s cage pieces are “the heart of the label” and most inline with her architecture background, Becca says. “But they’re definitely not for every day. They’re for people who want their outfits to be seen miles away.”
For 2013, she turned her attention to simpler, more minimalist looks and found the Chromat “vocabulary” was easy to translate into softer pieces in the new swim collection (above).
“I really loved doing the swimwear experiments,” she says. “It’s really new in swimwear to have all these crazy straps and lines. The whole swimwear collection is more comfortable, more mass market. I don’t know, it might become our main focus.”
Thanks to Chromat’s steady growth, Becca McCharen likely won’t be looking for work as an architect any time soon. But that won’t stop her from studying the patterns of the urban landscape and finding ways to adapt them to fashion.
That symbiotic connection was highlighted earlier this year when Chromat was one of seven designer labels around the world chosen to create a piece (above) for the WSP Group’s Future Cities, Future Fashion campaign aimed at shedding a light on sustainable urban development.
“My favorite urban environment is when a road is so steep that it turns into steps,” Becca says, adding that she discovered something like that during a recent holiday in Bergen, Norway.
I can’t imagine how that might translate into a garment, but I know it’ll be worth waiting for.
From a knockout military-themed pageant by Agent Provocateur to the see-through latex Cheongsam dresses from Atsuko Kudo‘s new collection, last night’s Lingerie London fashion show gave patrons more than an eyeful.
The event at Old Billingsgate market was sponsored by the Seven Bar Foundation, which raises money that provides micro loans to women entrepreneurs in the Third World. The London event was the group’s third luxury lingerie show and was expected to raise up to $200,000 to support its microfinance projects.
Here are some images from last night’s spectacular event.
Photos: Lingerie London, Atsuko Kudo, Agent Provocateur, Daily Mail
A star-studded lingerie show will dazzle London’s fashion elite tonight, but its impact could be felt around the world for years to come.
A sold-out crowd of 400 UK glitterati paid up to £1,000 each for the eagerly anticipated Lingerie London catwalk show at Old Billingsgate, a converted fish market on the Thames and prized Victorian landmark.
The main attractions at the event will be runway shows from power lingerie brand Agent Provocateur — presenting its biggest-ever fashion show and its first in five years — and renowned couture latex designer Atsuko Kudo.
With 80 models participating, the AP/AK double bill will provide eye-popping entertainment, but it’s the event’s backstory that should give patrons plenty to think about once the glittering spectacle is over.
Lingerie London is the third luxury lingerie show hosted by the Seven Bar Foundation, a unique New York-based charitable organization that uses the economic power of world-leading lingerie brands to support the entrepreneurial efforts of underprivileged women in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Tonight’s event will also feature a theatrical production from Empowered By You, a lingerie line that Seven Bar launched earlier this year and which funnels profits directly into the organization’s international microfinance partners.
Previous shows in Miami and New York have attracted high-powered patrons and high-wattage celebrities like Eva Longoria, Sofia Vergara and Deepak Chopra, and have showcased premium brands like Fifi Chachnil and Carine Gilson. More importantly, they helped Seven Bar raise more than $400,000 so far to support more than 3,000 women in Third World business start-ups.
The guiding light behind the shows and the Seven Bar Foundation is its founder, Renata Mutis Black, whose goal is to spark a paradigm shift in the luxury fashion world by turning big-ticket brands into agents of sustainable social change. Through Seven Bar’s lingerie shows and other cause marketing projects, she hopes to get micro-finance business loans into the hands of 250,000 women world-wide by 2020.
Black and her family launched Seven Bar after she spent several years as a volunteer relief worker, at one point working in 12 different countries in one year.
After the 2004 tsunami flooded south Asia, Black moved to the Chennai region of southern India to help rebuild demolished communities. It was there, in the tiny village of Mahabalipuram, that she had “a life-changing experience.”
“A woman came to me and said, ‘I know you have money but I don’t want it. I just want to learn how to make it myself.'” Black told Lingerie Talk. “I realized how disabling aid was, how it made a lot of strong women into beggars.”
With that inspiration, Black traveled to Bangladesh to spend three months learning about microfinance, microcredit and community lending from Nobel Prize winning economist Muhammad Yunus. She then returned to Mahabalipuram in India to help 800 women set up village lending collectives that are still operating today.
“We had a lot of money from (relief) aid,” Black said, “but the government was saying we can only give money for business loans to credit-worthy people. We said, ‘Are you kidding? These people eat rats.'”
Emboldened by the early success of the Indian microcredit program, Black returned to the U.S. and began looking for ways to fund similar programs on a global scale. Her entry into the glamorous world of fashion lingerie came, ironically, through Victoria’s Secret.
“I was watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on TV and I thought, it’s a shame that lingerie is only being used as a tool for seduction when it can be so much more than that.”
Through a mutual friend, Black was introduced to Joe Corre, founder of Agent Provocateur and one of Seven Bar’s earliest and most ardent supporters. Another friend introduced her to actress Eva (Desperate Housewives) Longoria, who is also well known as a social justice activist and agreed to host Seven Bar’s first exclusive lingerie show in Miami in 2009.
“Traditionally, people just saw lingerie as a tool of seduction,” Black said. “We want to turn that around, to use it as a tool of empowerment. It’s a powerful tool that only women own. No other medium has that kind of power.”
And Seven Bar provides more than just a way for women to help other women: it’s helping to make couture fashion brands socially relevant.
“Our lingerie shows provide an entry point that lets luxury brands make an impact on the rest of the world,” she said. “It has a lot to do with the idea of sustainable luxury. Maybe only 1% of people in the world live this way, so if we don’t direct some energy to the rest of the world, it’s not going to be a sustainable world.”
[Interesting sidenote: Carine Gilson, the fabled Belgian lingerie designer who was part of the 2009 Lingerie Miami show, got her start 25 years ago with a microfinance loan.]
Seven Bar is what’s known as a fund-to-fund charity. It doesn’t manage Third World microfinance projects itself, but channels money to vetted NGOs working in foreign countries that meet their strict criteria. Those agencies in turn provide small, low-interest loans to support women entrepreneurs. Because such programs are community-based and often involve worker collectives, loan defaults are extremely uncommon, creating a steadily-growing funding pool for others in the community.
Black returned to India in January to see the progress made by women who were part of her first microcredit efforts after the tsunami. She found the the village women hard at work creating paintings that they sold to retailers for the tourist market.
“It was really neat to see how innovative and forward-thinking they were,” she said. “When you’re in need, it’s amazing how creative you become.”
So far, Seven Bar is a very lean organization with only one full-time, unsalaried employee (Black), a handful of interns, a blue-chip executive committee and “a lot of love,” she said.
To ensure the charity’s long-term sustainability, Seven Bar also has a for-profit arm that creates cause marketing campaigns such as the Empowered By You panty line and a new collaboration with Agent Provocateur involving stockings with a ladder pattern — representing the “ladder out of poverty” that is their symbol.
Seven Bar is also planning another American lingerie show in Los Angeles next fall.
After finding new ways to approach poverty relief for more than a decade, Black — born in Colombia, raised in Miami, living in Dallas and working in New York — admits it’s hard to take a step back and appreciate what her organization has accomplished so far.
“It’s hard to see it from the stands,” she said. “I’ve worked so hard, but I feel like I have so much more to do.”
It takes a clear head and a strong voice to make sense of all the media noise about obesity, sizeism, bullying and the whole snakepit of body-image issues that women are exposed to.
Stella Boonshoft has that clarity.
The New York student triggered a tsunami-sized public debate last week by simply posting a photo of herself in a bikini on her Body Love blog. And demanding to be heard.
From there, a chance encounter with photographer Brandon Stanton resulted in more of Stella’s photos and opinions getting a wider audience on Brandon’s wonderful Humans of New York website.
The rest is internet viral history — over 2.5 million views, 300,000 “likes” and 30,000+ comments … all since Thursday. (Those numbers will skyrocket this week.)
Stella is currently working with Brandon to build out her blog into a bigger and better forum for body-love issues. Bookmark it and check back often.
In the meantime, below are two separate posts that appeared on Stella and Brandon’s sites — extremely powerful, defiant and worth sharing everywhere:
Text accompanying Stella’s original photo (top):
WARNING: Picture might be considered obscene because subject is not thin. And we all know that only skinny people can show their stomachs and celebrate themselves.
Well I’m not going to stand for that. This is my body. Not yours. MINE. Meaning the choices I make about it, are none of your f****** business. Meaning my size, IS NONE OF YOUR F****** BUSINESS.
If my big belly and fat arms and stretch marks and thick thighs offend you, then that’s okay. I’m not going to hide my body and my being to benefit your delicate sensitivities.
This picture is for the strange man at my nanny’s church who told me my belly was too big when I was five.
This picture is for my horseback riding trainer telling me I was too fat when I was nine.
This picture is for the girl from summer camp who told me I’d be really pretty if I just lost a few pounds.
This picture is for all the f****** stupid advertising agents who are selling us cream to get rid of our stretch marks, a perfectly normal thing most people have (I got mine during puberty).
This picture is for the boy at the party who told me I looked like a beached whale.
This picture is for Emily from middle school, who bullied me incessantly, made mocking videos about me, sent me nasty emails, and called me “lard”. She made me feel like I didn’t deserve to exist. Just because I happened to be bigger than her. I was 12. And she continued to bully me via social media into high school.
MOST OF ALL, this picture is for me. For the girl who hated her body so much she took extreme measures to try to change it. Who cried for hours over the fact she would never be thin. Who was teased and tormented and hurt just for being who she was.
I’m so over that.
THIS IS MY BODY, DEAL WITH IT.
From Brandon’s site, a second post in which Stella explains her background:
I struggled with body image my whole life. As a young teen, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS makes it incredibly hard to lose weight, and spikes up your insulin levels which can lead to diabetes and other complications.
I felt like I was just getting bigger and bigger and could do nothing to stop it. I was so awkward and uncomfortable with what I looked like that I began to self-medicate in the way most teenagers do, except it was to a scary excess. Finally, my parents intervened and when I was 15 I got the help I needed. The past 2 and a half years have essentially been a struggle to come to terms with who I am and live life in a constructive, not destructive manner.
A couple of weeks ago, I started a blog, just as a way to get out my thoughts and feelings. I found the body acceptance movement online, and it was like my eyes were open for the first time. I realized that my size or weight is not something to be ashamed of, it is a part of me.
Health and weight are not synonymous, and I know that to be healthy means to manage my sobriety and PCOS the best that I can. I may not ever be thin, but that’s okay. It’s all about progress, not perfection.
So I posted a picture of myself in my underwear with a message to all the people who’d ever bullied me about what I looked like. Amazingly, in less than a week, it got over 50,000 likes and reblogs. It’s upwards of 80,000 now, and the response has been 90% positive, I would say.
Two friends of mine, Savanna and Lucy, are in the process of planning a documentary on sizeism and its effect on young girls. My dream is to go back to my middle school, where all my body image issues began, and work with young girls on the issues of self-esteem, body image, sizeism, and bullying. I want to give these girls something I never knew, which was that your body does not define who you are as a person.
To people who judge people on their size, weight, pants size or health – shame on you. No one is the authority on beauty, and everyone has a different road to trudge to happy destiny.
It’s been said that every generation has to discover Shakespeare in its own way.
And these days there are countless pathways to the Bard: from Woody Allen to Julie Taymor to Gnomeo and Juliet and many more.
But what about a lingerie collection aimed at dreamy young girls that tries to capture the timeless heartache of Romeo and Juliet?
Wildfox Couture, the youth-centric L.A. streetwear brand, has done just that with its debut underwear collection called Wildfox White Label Intimates.
As eclectic as everything in the Wildfox oeuvre, the new line was inspired by Juliet Capulet, “if she had been alive in ’90s and starred in The Real World.”
Thus, the Wildfox version of Juliet captured in the evocative photoshoot that launches the collection wears a nose ring and chain and spends her time staring out the windows of her sparsely furnished loft, waiting for her Romeo.
“I remember in high school having a shrine of Leonardo DiCaprio pictures, dreaming I was Claire Danes in angel wings,” Emily Faulstich, part of the Wildfox design team, says in a blog post.
“As teenagers we idolized the bright, poppy aesthetic and slightly punk edge to the movie (Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet), and loved the romantic story and poetry of it. Our intimates try and convey this romanticism and rebellion.”
(The lookbook image below captures that spirit and reminds us that the original R&J was really just a story of teenage hormones and gang warfare — eternal themes, indeed!)
True to its parent label’s DNA, Wildfox Intimates doesn’t look anything like most lingerie collections. It’s an odd but cute assortment of soft bras and briefs, one-armed asymmetrical mesh bodysuits, tops and leggings.
It purports to offer a “vintage” appeal, but with Wildfox that really means 15 or 20 years ago. So you’ll find plenty of the kind of big floral prints, pop-art digital imagery and cryptic slogans you get in Wildfox’s t-shirts and tops.
“Wildfox Intimates are for the most poetic of girls,” the company says on its website before going on for another 200 words to explain exactly what that means. “The girls who live for romance, who lay in bed collaging Polaroids of the ocean, who memorize constellations, scribble poetry across blank pages of homemade paper, love their cat more than anything, and hang curtains of pink lace. …
“This is the girl who wears pajamas to a party, or a bra over her t-shirt — the girl who loves dancing in her underwear, cooking in an apron and panties, and starting games of strip poker with her friends. You’ve met her before, maybe you’ve had sleepovers at her house. You’ve seen her clothes strewn all over the bathroom, admired dainty bras hanging from antique lampshades, you’ve laughed about boys as she sat in cloud print underwear and did her makeup in front of a beautiful vanity.”
Now that‘s a soliloquy worthy of Shakespeare himself. (Read the entire blurb here.)
Wildfox’s first foray into underwear is a heartfelt affair and it’s going to be a huge hit with all those shy, pining Juliets out there who can advertise their desires with a heart-print bodysuit or oversized top with “Oh Romeo, Romeo” printed on it.
It’s more stylish than scholarly but, as we said, there are no wrong ways to discover and make Shakespeare your own.
Here are some images from Wildfox Intimates‘ very naturalistic lookbook. Watch for the collection itself to show up in the company webshop soon.