Chromat’s Becca McCharen-Tran Celebrates Weirdness

Trained as an architect, obsessed with technology, 33-year-old designer Becca McCharen-Tran’s award-winning Chromat has dreamt up a joyous community of body-positive enthusiasts and artists. We spoke to her after her WAVVY New York show, where she sent models (plus-sized, trans, and non-binary, headscarved and gloriously afroed) down the runway in Skittle-colored bodysuits, sheer dresses, and sci-fi-meets-raver gear equipped with pockets for essentials such as red-colored Cheetos.  

CHROMAT FW18 show in New York. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

How did you move from architecture to fashion? Who were your inspirations early on?

I got into fashion to use my architectural training on a smaller scale. I like working on the scale of the body. It has allowed me to feel differently about fashion. Architecture is about making technical and functional forms – I’ve applied that to fashion for intelligent designs, for example for my collaboration for responsive garments with Intel in 2015.

I love Zaha Hadid – she was a visionary. Her form-making is so unique to her and it’s rare to see women starchitects – she designed on all scales from urban design to tablewear. I love that Rem Koolhaas has a manifesto about everything he conceives. Audre Lorde inspired me because she fought for women’s rights and Black American rights and talked about the queer experience. And Toni Morrison, who said that if you’re free your job is to empower others – we’re not free unless everyone is free. I’m interested in all these intersectionalities.

As a queer woman designing swimwear and athletics, how do you see the body?

I think it’s interesting – designing as a queer woman, I do not think about the male gaze ever – there’s no conversation involving men in our work. It has changed the way we make our clothes. We enhance and celebrate women’s bodies. A lot of what we do is about augmenting the silhouette instead of shrinking it, which can be revolutionary when women are constantly told to shrink their bodies and take up less space. To make people feel valued, seen, and appreciated no matter their body. For swim in particular, there’s a really important connection between swimsuits and how you feel about your body.

CHROMAT FW18 show in New York. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

How do you see fashion as problematic? How do you respond to that?

White supremacy is the foundation of a lot of fashion we see now. The white elite was traditionally the gatekeeper of fashion. It’s all very connected when you think of the idea of the body, the idea of hair – it’s very white-centric. To break out this idea of beauty and present all bodies as beautiful, I feel that we can change this standard. We also give back to charity like the Audre Lorde project and queer health initiatives. For me, activism is about reaching people’s minds – showing visual images on the runway is bigger than just selling things – it’s a platform where people go to see what is beautiful and what is fashionable and what is desired.

In a way, your show felt like an underground party.

Our shows and our work are a reflection of our community and the different artists that we hang out with – poets, scientists, artists, musicians – to create these shows. It’ll always be connected to subcultures and the creative community. We work in Bushwick and Bedstuy. Things are still happening in the city. This show was about fun, about escaping, about trying to find joy. And packing what you need on your body if you were to leave, hence the pockets.

How did you select this extraordinary cast of models?

Who we see on the runway is who we’re inspired by in real life. Our casting director Gilleon Smith has been casting our shows since the beginning. She works for TV too. We have an open call where we see anyone and we see call backs. We do whatever we can to explode traditional views of beauty norms, celebrate Black hair; we’re inclusive and accept people for who they are. We worked with a lot of real models who have side jobs as artists, like Viktoria Modesta, who has a synthetic leg and is a bionic pop artist friend; Ericka Hart, a sex ed educator, activist, and breast cancer survivor who reached out one week before the show; Jahmal Golden, a trans non-binary poet who composed the poem that we had in the zine and the voice over poem. Several other models were trans women as well – such as Carmen Carrera, Geena Rocero.   

CHROMAT FW18 show in New York. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

What do you think of this idea of tokenism of otherness in fashion and advertising?

I saw an interview with the singer Kelela where she talks about the psychological pressure of being the only black model on a shoot. For us, of course, it’s never been tokenism because it’s our world. It’s a reflection of our community. But if we can diversify the runway, it’s a gain. Right now, showing diversity is so new that people are saying that it doesn’t belong or that it’s taking the focus away from the clothes. It’s not a trend. It’s reality. Fashion is no longer for the elite, it’s for everyone. The Internet has changed a lot of things too; people don’t need to be on the cover of Vogue or win the approval of editors. Editors and designers are getting more feedback and this opening of communication is going to make things more diverse and inclusive. 


See the full CHROMAT FW18 collection here.