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Couture Construction

Becca McCharen at her sewing machine

Becca McCharen (Arch ’06) is an urban planner who drapes old canvas maps of 1940s Lynchburg around dressmaking dummies. Emily Kappes (Arch ’06) is an architect who screenprints cityscapes onto fabric reclaimed from thrift stores. Together, as Chromat Garments, they make fashion that borrows heavily from architecture.

Kappes (left) and McCharen

“Architecture school was very process oriented,” says McCharen. “We did a lot of research about the context of a building before we designed it. We made many iterations of a single idea and then we edited them. And that is exactly what we do with our clothing designs.”

The label’s first collection was inspired by a sense of place; Indigenous Lynchburg used plaid fabrics, camouflage and denim to re-imagine the street fashions of small-town Virginia. Their most recent collection, Cities and Cages, employs maps, cityscapes and bold, modern lines reminiscent of skyscrapers. The clothes are handmade and one-of-a-kind.

A piece from the Cities and Cages collection Duck Duck Collective and Kim Raff

The raw materials of the clothes are salvaged, deconstructed and reconstructed. During the process, existing seams, buttonholes and collars are used as guidelines, not unlike a retrofit or renovation of a building. “I find myself investigating materials for fashion in the same way I do for architecture,” says Kappes. “Whether I’m screenprinting fabric or pouring concrete, I’m trying to figure out what process will best transform a raw material into a finished garment or building.”