In January 2016, five fashion designers set out to pitch a first-of-its-kind capsule collection: wearable yet adventurous, rooted in their brand identity while appealing to an entirely new audience—and made to fit into a makeup bag. A collaboration between the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and MAC Cosmetics, the contest offered an insider’s guide to conceptualizing a limited-edition line, and a panel of judges quietly green-lit one proposal. Today, after months of fine-tuning formulas and packaging, the time has come to reveal the winner: Chromat, the Brooklyn-based studio led by Becca McCharen-Tran, who shares her behind-the-scenes photo diary of the process with Vogue.
When the MAC x Chromat collection hits shelves on June 29, one of the label’s tenets will be immediately clear: “We don’t make basics,” McCharen-Tran explains with a laugh. Trained in architecture, with a futurist’s approach to new materials, the designer has experimented with LED bras, an adrenaline-sensitive dress, and 3-D-printed accessories; models’ makeup looks have ranged from holographic eyebrows, to aquamarine lipstick, to geometric eyeliner in Yves Klein blue. “It’s all about a strong gaze, direct eye contact, and a powerful stomp on the runway for us,” she says. “The face tells the story of being unafraid.”
Now, McCharen-Tran is bringing that mandate for fearlessness to the people—or, as she puts it, all the future #Chromatbabes. In that spirit, the eight-piece line is shot through with references to influential women in the designer’s orbit. The artist and DJ Juliana Huxtable’s signature cyan lipstick inspired an ultra-pigmented version called #Shockvalue, after her popular nightlife event. A loose topaz glitter riffs on an eye look rocked by the musician Rahel in a Chromat shoot. And McCharen-Tran’s own permutations of blue eyeliner paved the way for the cobalt Fluidline formula, which she wears in an open cat-eye along with Pepto-pink hair in the campaign visuals. “For me, having personal time in the bathroom with colors and lines is really a self-regeneration,” the designer says of her try-anything-once approach to makeup. “It’s so transformative.”
That color crush—which takes an electric turn with a bright blue mascara that “you can see from across the room”—is offset with hits of flame red, as seen in an eyeshadow palette dubbed the #Chromatbabe Super Pack. Emblazoned with a grid motif borrowed from a cage dress in the Fall 2013 collection, the compact conveys a sense of everyday armor, a notion that’s become even more resonant over the tumultuous last year. “I believe the future is diverse. We’ve had plus-size models, trans women, everybody on the gender spectrum walk our show—every race and every size,” McCharen-Tran says, describing her creative community. Power dressing, whether with a future-forward swimsuit or a glitter brow, carries weight, she suggests. “Just being yourself is kind of a political act.”