This season, Chromat’s typical range of swimwear was accentuated with inflatable vests, coats, sleeves, and more in striking hues. There was a voluminous cropped tube top, strapless gown, and even a fascinator-like headpiece in the mix for fall '17. These weren’t frivolous, purely-for-the-aesthetics accessories — the pieces are meant to represent the idea of surviving and staying afloat in a tumultuous political environment. “I was designing and coming up with the concept around the election, and it was hard to avoid being influenced by all the craziness happening,” McCharen explained of how the collection's "Buoyancy" theme emerged. “Our friends, families, and communities are being targeted and banned — I felt like everyone was in survival mode, just fighting to survive.” To that end, life jackets and inflatable rafts were an inspiration: “We wanted to make clothes to help wearer feel lifted and elevated, like they could survive in rough, open waters.” It’s the first time Chromat has dabbled with inflatable garments, working with Utah-based outdoor brand Klymit, which makes ultra-lightweight, cage-like camping pads, utilizing body-scanning technology to incorporate inflatable padding where weight is carried. (McCharen emailed the company “out of the blue” about pairing up.) “It’s been a cool collaboration between the fashion world and the outdoor survival world,” McCharen explained. Besides the survivalist symbolism of rafts and life jackets, the design process of working with inflatables has significance, too: inflatable sleeves are “so tight, they’re like blood pressure monitors, which parallels what everyone’s feeling politically, and how [today's politics] can cause high blood pressure,” she said.
As usual, Chromat’s casting was very diverse, including some repeat models like Sabina Karlsson, Denise Bidot, and Juliana Huxtable. “It’s all about celebrating the people in our community; it’s always been about having girls of all sizes, all places on the gender spectrum, all races,” McCharen said. “Representation matters and it’s so impactful. We have the power to change who’s represented in the fashion world, and that’s always a focal point of our runway shows.” The show opened with a performance by UNIIQU3 and closed with the lyrics "Fuck Donald Trump" on loop as attendees shuffled out. McCharen, like us, is interested in seeing how other designers tackle — or stay silent on — polarizing political matters this Fashion Month. “I’m curious how much it will be addressed at shows, or if there will be a weird dissonance.” In a climate of such uncertainty, McCharen also wonders how buying will shake out this season for Chromat, and for her peers. “It’s scary being young designer without an investor, living from collection to collection, wondering if I’ll need another job,” she said.
The designer has grappled with keeping up business as usual in a Trump-led era. “With all of these horrible things this administration is doing, sometimes it feels pointless to even be designing,” she said. “It feels terrible to just spend the day sewing. I should be out protesting instead, I should be calling my senator every single second; I’m conflicted about it.” And while McCharen had the slightest bit of hesitation about involving political messaging in her collection, she ultimately felt it was non-negotiable. “I’m of mindset that if you stay silent in times of oppression, you become oppressor,” McCharen remarked. “Things have gone so wrong, it’s almost not a choice to speak out. Everyone’s just trying to survive right now, keep their heads above water, and get through the next four years, basically.”