Becca McCharen’s lingerie and swimwear-focused brand Chromat is on a bit of a high right now. Having been tapped as a finalist for the influential CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund last year, she’s drawn attention thanks to her trans-inclusive, body-positive model castings and even a foray into the wearable tech world – at mega electronics show CES in January, the brand unveiled a smart bra and dress that interpret and adapt to how the wearer feels.
Every season, the designer hits NYFW, working with a select group of collaborators to channel the correct mix of female empowerment and outsider mentality that’s pushed her to the forefront. There’s one catch though – these women are witches.
“Witches is just a platform for bringing together creative and empowered women,” says Christine Tan, founder of the Brooklyn-based Witches of Bushwick collective that produces the Chromat fashion show and after-party. Composed of a ragtag group of women brought together by their desire to see each other succeed, the group works on everything from art exhibitions to magazines, and yes, fashion shows. After Chromat’s AW16 show, which saw the likes of Isis King, Juliana Huxtable and more rock everything from cage-inspired bodywear to athletic apparel, we spotlight three of the witches involved – no broomsticks, though.
CHRISTINE TRAN, FOUNDER OF WITCHES OF BUSHWICK
“I actually met Christine three years ago,” says McCharen of her partner in both business and in life. “I had known about her parties that happened at Tandem in Brooklyn.” Those parties were not just the start of the pair’s working relationship, but of Witches at large. A year before, Tran had started hosting the events just to shine a light on her friends.
“We just wanted to find a way to celebrate the talented community that we were a part of,” says Tran of the organisation’s start. “We started a monthly party of just friends bringing together friends. We did pop-up art shows of tattoo artists and other art events.” Those projects here and there eventually led to opportunities like producing an in-house magazine, managing artists and putting on the Chromat show from start to finish. And while Witches is all about the collaborations that have gotten them thus far, for Tran, it’s also about creating a safe space.
“I’m an Asian queer person... Witches was supposed to be that space for anyone on the female-identified spectrum” – Christine Tran
“I’m an Asian queer person,” says Tran, “which isn’t a (safe space) you can find very easily. Witches was supposed to be that space for anyone on the female-identified spectrum.”
This season, Tran pulled together Discwoman and Factory Girl, two DJ collectives that have worked on the show’s runway soundtrack and after-party set, as well as light artists who brought something extra to the runway presentation, referencing the collection’s inspiration of luminosity and the art of Robert Irwin.
DENISE BIDOT, MODEL
On the runway, Chromat has always championed diversity. “For us, plus-sized is always a focus; trans models are always a focus. It’s just the people in our world,” explains McCharren. “I’m looking for attitude and a strong sense of self, strength and a really strong walk. If you have a shy walk there’s no way you’ll be in our runway show.” As Chromat’s ‘original’ plus-sized model, Denise Bidot has that confidence and strength in spades.
“I actually got into modelling from acting,” the ten-year industry vet explains. “I was in LA and people kept telling me, ‘You’re never going to be the leading lady unless you drop ten, 15, maybe even 20 pounds.’ I didn’t want to compromise who I was, no matter how much I loved the industry.” The responses pushed the then 19-year-old into make-up, which eventually led to her career in plus-sized modelling. (“I have no hang-ups about being called plus,” says Bidot of the term. “It’s all about the power you give to words.”)
“People kept telling me ‘You’re never going to be the leading lady unless you drop ten, 15, maybe even 20 pounds.’ I didn’t want to compromise who I was” – Denise Bidot
The model’s path with the brand is distinguished despite being only four seasons deep. Having walked in a few shows, Bidot has also served as the fit model for the label’s Curve line, fronted the photos for that project, and is one of the inspirations for this season’s beauty look. On Friday’s runway, she and other models will debut the brand’s collaborative project with Intel as well as lingerie and dresses that look at instances of biomimicry and bioluminescence. According to McCharen, after completing a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund challenge where she was tasked with creating a look to wear to a gala at Dia Beacon honouring an exhibit for artist Robert Irwin, she built the entire AW line on his work as well as the work of Dan Flavin. The results were a series of a bodices that lit up at the show’s beginning, when the lights were turned down.
“For us, the after-party is the celebration of our world and people we work with,” says McCharen of the blowout fete the brand hosts after every show. “It’s a big thank you to all of our collaborators and the people who inspire us. Our runway shows are an industry event, but the after-parties are really open to the public.” This year, to pull it off, McCharen and Tran called in the Philly-based DJ collective Factory Girls, who just released their Galentine’s Day mixtape, and Atlanta-based spinner Speakerfoxxx.
“The Chromat after-party is like DJing for all of my best friends at a slumber party,” explains Speakerfoxxx. “I get to be artistic and take risks and the team really loves my music.” This season was the third which saw the pair link up – but it all started from a sense of mutual admiration.
“I was a big fan of theirs for several years,” the DJ said while on break from shooting cover art for a new collaborative project with fellow Atlanta artist Bosco. “Whenever I would go to the stores they were always sold out of their pieces. And then I found out they listened to my mixtapes on Soundcloud while designing the line. To this day, that’s still the best compliment I can get.”
“I found out they listened to my mixtapes on Soundcloud while designing the line. To this day, that’s still the best compliment I can get” – DJ Speakerfoxxx
This season, the two paired up on the after-party at Le Bain along with Factory Girls, UMFANG and UNiiQU3. For Speakerfoxxx, the all-female lineup means something. “Because I’m not based in Bushwick, my relationship to (Witches of Bushwick) is a little different, but I’m a big supporter because it’s all about supporting creative people and putting them on a bigger platform,” she says. “In Atlanta, it’s so male-driven in the music industry. The more avenues we can create for variety, the better it is in the long run for everyone.”
And Witches of Bushwick is all about creating those avenues.
Follow Mikelle Street on Twitter here @mikellestreet