The relationship between architecture and fashion isn’t as distant as it might seem, since both are concerned with utilitarian function and visual style, and both aspire to express something grander than the sum of its parts.
No one knows this better than Becca McCharen, the architect-turned-fashion-designer and visionary founder of the high-concept swim and lingerie label Chromat.
We once called Chromat the coolest lingerie label on the planet, but it’s morphed into something much more than that in the past year. Whatever else you see during New York Fashion Week, it likely won’t be as original, inventive and just plain mind-blowing as what Chromat has in store.
The label will debut an expanded fashion and accessories collection for 2014 tomorrow in an off-schedule fashion week presentation at the Out NYC hotel in Manhattan, with its grand courtyard and waterfall curtains serving as an appropriate backdrop for Chromat‘s geeky, futuristic fashions.
We haven’t seen the new collection yet, but we can tell you that tomorrow’s show draws inspiration from mathematical competitions, NASA astronauts, prosthetic limbs and team uniforms for math nerds. There will be about 40 pieces in all, including a 15-piece swim collection, 5 coverups, 5 athletic sports bras and a new range of running shoes and sandals that will complement the huge platform wedges that Chromat introduced this fall (and which you can see in the photos at the bottom).
“Chromat is in a cool place right now,” Becca (right) told Lingerie Talk recently. “At this point people are expecting something new and innovative from us. We’re in a place where math, science and architecture are constant inspirations. It’s a cool place to be.”
Math and science, astronauts and architecture? In what started as a lingerie label? Suffice it to say, there’s nothing in the fashion universe today that comes close to Chromat‘s bold and brainy inventions.
The new Superstructures collection, which reached stores last week, offers a good indication of how far Becca and her Brooklyn-based team will go in their experimental explorations. Many of the pieces look like costumes from contemporary sci-fi movies, but their origins go much farther back.
Superstructures is a kind of tribute to some of the modernist architectural movements of the past 50 years, beginning with Archigram‘s dystopian cityscapes in the 1960s, through the massive grid structures of the Italian Superstudio collective of the 1970s and carried on by Future Systems in the 1990s.
What they all had in common was a kind of radical expressionism that exposed the inner structures and shapes of buildings, creating new intersections between technology and nature. That sounds a bit like what Becca McCharen (who calls her work “structural undergarments for the human body”) does with fashion. And it comes as no surprise that Becca cites Renzo Piano‘s Pompidou Centre in Paris (above) as her favorite building, or that she studied Santiago Calatrava (architect of the new Freedom Tower at Ground Zero) in school.
For Chromat‘s fall collection, Becca looked at grid patterns and how they might be adapted to the human anatomy, as well as how to convert mathematical equations into three-dimensional garments. Sounds geeky, and it is: this is clothing for technomorphs.
Here’s a couple of examples of how she did it. The lissajous curve (above) is a familiar ratio that describes motion, often seen on an oscilloscope. Chromat converted its mathematical formula into the Lissajous shoulder cage, made from hologram vinyl and corset boning.
Another math puzzle can be seen in Chromat‘s Hyperbloid dress (below), which mimics the inverted-cone surfaces of a hyperboloid, whose elliptical shapes are often seen in architecture in such structures as power station cooling towers.
Other pieces in the Superstructures collection create the impression of man-made forms imposed on the body’s natural curves. The Walking City corset employs clear plastic tubing, while the Spaceship City cage bra uses hologram vinyl cups on a clear vinyl torso.
The most dramatic and memorable pieces, though, are the Superstudio and Machine City dresses (main photo above), both of which ape the monolithic grids of Becca’s architectural inspirations (and which can be seen in this Lexus commercial).
But who’s going to wear such a thing?
“The people who wear our more innovative pieces are looking for something avant garde,” Becca said. “They are for a bold customer who wants to stand out, someone wanting to make a statement.”
Just three years old, Chromat made its mark with its geometric cage bodies and bras and earlier this year branched into a complementary swimwear line that captures the label’s vision, but in more wearable styles. The immediate success of the swim line put Chromat in an interesting and unusual position.
“For us, the swimwear is a bigger market than cages will ever be,” Becca said. “It’s something we can produce at a much higher volume, so it’s our financial driver.
“But people expect from us innovation. When we try mainstream garments, no one buys them and no one cares.”
Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the AW 2013 collection Superstructures. Check the Chromat website for stockist information.