Before the pandemic, designer Becca McCharen-Tran relocated from New York City to Miami. So, when it came time to return to New York Fashion Week, she decided she was "bringing that energy" with her: "I won't do runway unless it's at the beach."
So, on Sunday, Chromat took over the boardwalk at the Riis Park beach, a historic gathering place for the LGBTQIA+ community in New York City, to debut its latest collection, a collaboration with artist and activist Tourmaline (who directed "Joy Run," the film Chromat screened last September during New York Fashion Week) titled Collective Opulence Celebrating Kindred.
"I've been going for 17 years now," Tourmaline says of Riis. "It feels like this powerful place that has held so much of our community and so much of my own specific life and transformation." She's currently working on a biography of Marsha P. Johnson, and Riis played an important role in that story, too: "Marsha met one of her lovers at Riis. It's history," McCharen-Tran adds. "There's really no other beach like it in the world. It's so special."
A product collaboration has always been a goal for Tourmaline and McCharen-Tran — it's one of the first ideas that came up when they talked about working together. "I was asking her, 'What do you love about this process?' And she said, 'Thoughts turning into things,'" McCharen-Tran remembers. "It's been so cool to make objects about our ideas, about our philosophies on life and what we want to see in the world."
"To me, it felt like the perfect moment to expand the beauty of what Chromat is already doing, turning thoughts into things, new ideas about, 'We, too, can feel beautiful and powerful and lush and alive, at the pool and the beach,'" Tourmaline says. "So I reached out and said, 'Let's do this and ensure that even more of our community can feel fab.'"
Chromat x Tourmaline is about "meeting people where they are" when it comes to how much they want to show at the beach or the pool, McCharen-Tran explains, with a focus on swimwear for trans, non-binary and intersex folks. "This collection is community-informed design," she says. "The amount of DMs Chromat has received over the years, like, 'Where are the pieces for trans femmes? What can I wear? What swim bottom would you recommend?' It's a direct need and want from Chromat Babes around the world, so I'm really happy that we've been able to create it."
"One of the ideas was that we wanted to have varying degrees of coverage," Tourmaline notes. "For folks who show up at the beach and maybe want more coverage, we wanted to make sure there were looks [for them], like the skirt. Then, for people who say, 'Today's the day I'm going to wear my thong,' that's also a possibility."
The whole line is "Baywatch" red, which makes you think, "juicy, cherry, red-hot summer" according to McCharen-Tran: "Red looks amazing on skin tones, and it's really vibrant and alive. I wanted to channel this protective lifeguard energy." The monochromatic collection also speaks to the designer's intention with (and on) the product. "I wanted to focus on cut and fit," she says. "I'm still in testing mode. We're still getting fit feedback. This is about a new shapes, adding the soft package pouch to swim. Next season, it'll be about print, fabric and different things, but for this, it was about cut."
Like many other designers, McCharen-Tran has been reimagining the way she puts out new work, focusing less on seasonality and more on messaging: The last time she was on the New York Fashion Week calendar, she didn't show any new clothes — instead, she put her Fall 2020 collection (which had debuted six months earlier) in a new context, in a film by Tourmaline about imagining athletics free of a gender binary.
"During the pandemic, I've definitely realigned my output and realized I don't have to be pushing out so much stuff all the time," McCharen-Tran says. "I've been taking my Marxist classes, thinking about capitalism and overproduction and consumption, and wanting everything we put out to be intentional and with meaning and with care. It was such a blessing for me to have the time to slow down and realize that I can do what I want. I don't always have to be churning. It's not constant output, and I think that saved my life, to be honest."
"I was at the beach the day before a runway show, which is unheard of. I was like, 'Wow, I'm really centering pleasure and ease in my own life for the first time ever,'" she adds. "This season, although it's been a lot of work compared to the last year, but compared to what it used to be, it's night and day. That sustainability of mental health and wellness is really important."
See the full Chromat x Tourmaline collection in the gallery, below.