Chromat Debuts Swimwear For Girls Who Don’t Tuck At Jacob Riis, NYC’s Queerest Beach
“Chromat has been massively inclusive for over a decade now, and once again, has found a way to include another community in fashion.”
“I’ve been going to Jacob Riis Beach ever since my friend, Kenyon Farrow, a Black, queer activist, brought me there in 2005,” said activist and filmmaker Tourmaline of “The People’s Beach” of New York City, located on the other side of Jamaica Bay from Brooklyn, the preferred summertime destination for queer, trans, gender-nonconforming New Yorkers looking to get their tan on. For lots of Riis regulars, that spit of shore is something special: “I can remember a time that I felt so uncomfortable being at the beach and not wanting to be looked at,” Tourmaline said. “I can remember being in the water and not wanting to get out because I was afraid of getting dirty looks. I wasn't feeling sexy and powerful, so I would be in the water way past a point where I should have been.” For Tourmaline, Riis was instrumental in changing her mindset.
“I can remember a time that I felt so uncomfortable being at the beach and not wanting to be looked at. I can remember being in the water and not wanting to get out because I was afraid of getting dirty looks. I wasn't feeling sexy and powerful, so I would be in the water way past a point where I should have been.”
Tourmaline, filmmaker and activist
On Sunday, the filmmaker-designer presented a collection of swimsuits and beachwear for girls who don’t tuck, trans femmes, non-binary people, and intersex bodies, a collaboration with beloved swimwear brand Chromat. Founded by designer Becca McCharen-Tran in 2008, Chromat is known for its dedication to inclusivity. The spring ‘22 collection only expanded on that commitment.
“There isn't a collection that aestheticises the beauty of trans girls and trans femmes not tucking,” Tourmaline told Refinery29 ahead of the New York Fashion Week show. “And there isn't a collection that does that with package support for trans men who want to pack.” In creating this collection with McCharen-Tran for Chromat, the duo is bringing fashion to a whole new place.
To do so, Tourmaline and McCharen-Tran went through nearly every suit in the Chromat archives, going back over ten years and asking themselves a series of questions about each one: Does this work for you? Is this comfortable? If not, what would you change about it? Some suits, they discovered, were perfect as is, likely because McCharen-Tran has always tried to design beachwear that’s wearable by many. Others needed slight adjustments, like an additional inch of fabric in the crotch area for added support or room. “So there are new pieces and then there are essentially upcycled pieces,” said McCharen-Tran.
”I see this collection as the beginning of something bigger."
Becca McCharen-Tran, founder of Chromat
Highlights from the collection, which was meant to embrace what Chromat calls Collective Opulence Celebrating Kindred, or “COCK”, include thongs with extra string that goes around the hip, shorts that are low-cut on the leg opening, a tennis skort, a netted micro mini dress, a thong monokini, and a string bikini that’s available in both a narrow and a wide version, among countless other pieces. Every single item in the spring collection is available in sizes XS to 4X. “I see this collection as the beginning of something bigger,” said McCharen-Tran, whose mission is to improve Chromat and expand its reach with each new collection.
In the democratic spirit of Jacob Riis, the collection was presented in a pop-up format that allowed beachgoers — Chromat’s actual customers — to be the audience, as opposed to New York Fashion Week’s standard crowd. (According to McCharen-Tran, Riis is where she’s seen the most Chromat suits in the wild.) There was no announcement, or anything to notify people that a show was to take place on the beach’s boardwalk. And yet, after the first model, Joshua Allen, descended down the concrete runway, the crowd more than tripled, with cheers coming from every direction.
Immediately following the finale, led by Tourmaline and McCharen-Tran, the models took to the beach, throwing themselves on a bed of pink towels before running toward the water. This time, decked out in Chromat’s spring ‘21 collection, there wasn’t a glint of fear about entering the water in a swimsuit, such was the case with Tourmaline years ago. “I think this is such a powerful way to know how important fashion is,” she said.
Freelance writer Jess Sims, who watched the show live from the boardwalk, agrees with Tourmaline. “We say the word ‘inclusivity’ and a lot of fashion doesn’t take it seriously,” she told Refinery29 after the show wrapped. “Chromat has been massively inclusive for over a decade now, and once again, has found a way to include another community in fashion — and fashion should be for everyone.”
McCharen-Tran is steadfast in her quest to turn that “should” into “is.” But even she acknowledges that her work isn’t perfect yet. Despite fit-testing every suit on Tourmaline, who provided detailed feedback for the designer, McCharen-Tran explained that she can’t say for certain that every single person will find a suit in the spring ‘22 collection that’s a perfect fit. Not yet anyway. “But that is always our goal,” she said.