What does the mind-bending lingerie label Chromat have in common with Rodarte, Prabal Gurung or Rag & Bone?
For that matter, what does Chromat’s deep-thinker-in-chief Becca McCharen have in common with Derek Lam or Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang or Joseph Altuzarra?
Like all of those dazzling young stars of American fashion before her, Becca has been named a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, considered the most prestigious launching pad for emerging U.S. designers.
Becca will compete with nine other nominees before the 2015 winners are announced on Nov. 2 at a gala dinner in New York. The winner will receive $400,000 while two runners-up will get $150,000 each. Past winners have also benefited from hands-on mentorship, and even investment, from some of the biggest brands in American fashion.
Sponsored by Vogue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the annual CVFF competition has awarded $4.3-million in prize money to 30 emerging labels since its inaugural year in 2004. Numerous past winners, from Proenza Schouler (2004) to Public School (2013), credit the CVFF award with helping to establish their labels in the American marketplace.
Becca’s nomination ends a long drought for lingerie designers in the competition. In fact, she’s the first underwear designer to make the annual competition since Victoria Bartlett of VPL in 2007. Other nominees such as Phillip Lim, Sophie Theallet and Erin Featherston have all produced lingerie collections too, but as capsule collections to their womenswear lines and after their CVFF experience. New York luxury sleepwear designer Ari Dein was awarded a spot in the CFDA’s prestigious incubator program, which is separate from the CVFF competition.
Becca’s road to the finals won’t be easy, though. The 10 finalists will first submit to a famously fearsome interview with a panel of judges including Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg and Carolina Herrera. The candidates will then be given a “design challenge” and will present a mini-collection of five pieces from past, present and future collections at a runway show in October at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.
For Becca, the accolade is an unexpected validation from the fashion establishment for her futuristic, boundary-pushing lingerie and swimwear brand, which began as a home-based “experimental collection” while she was working as an architect in Virginia in 2009. She sent her first cage bra (above) to the NYC showroom International Playground for a pop-up shop and got so many orders she quit her job, moved to New York and opened Chromat.
Since its launch, Chromat’s unique cage-like structural pieces — which Becca describes as “human scaffolding” — have become favorites of the fashion press and celebrity performers like Beyoncé, Madonna and countless others.
“I’m so grateful for everyone who saw an interesting idea and possibility in this early prototype, and for everyone who has helped Chromat grow as a brand for the past 5 years,” she wrote on her Facebook page yesterday. “I’m in shock and feeling so blessed.”
She also sees her nomination as an acknowledgement of the increasing presence of oft-overlooked undergarments in the American fashion landscape.
“I think swimwear and lingerie are becoming a bigger part of fashion,” she told Vogue. “At Chromat we think of them in the fashion category. To have Vogue and the CFDA acknowledge that is definitely a big thing for those industries.”
Becca won’t have much time to savor the good news, though. She’s off this weekend to Miami Swim Week, where Chromat will present its first swimwear runway show.
The image below shows the full roster of nominees. You can read about them here.