The models in Chromat‘s Fall/Winter 2019 show didn’t just walk down the runway — they danced. Strutted. Sashayed. Flirted. If “winking” is something you can do with your entire body while both eyes remain open, they did that too, oozing sex appeal in ways both obvious and subtle. True to the brand’s modus operandi, most of them sported some iteration of swimwear. A couple wore gigantic palm leaves strapped to their backs, which from behind looked like pairs of messy, verdant wings.

Wings. I immediately thought of this year’s controversial Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which had its worst ratings in its 23 years of broadcasted history. To make matters worse, it took place shortly after Victoria’s Secret executive producer Ed Razek was (rightfully) ridiculed for Vogue interview in which he insinuated that making the show’s runway more inclusive — in any sense of the word — did not align with the company’s messaging, saying it would be off-brand to hire plus-size or transgender models.

The show was then panned by multiple media outlets, with Robin Givhan delivering a particularly withering verdict in The Washington Post: “The executives at Victoria’s Secret may have found the perfect way to silence the many critics of its annual fashion show — by proving that it means absolutely nothing in the landscape of television entertainment. The models are still homogeneous in body type. They are still treated like show ponies. But the one-hour TV special was such a nonevent of excruciating cliches and non-sexiness that it’s not worth a cultural renovation. It’s a teardown. Or we could all just get out of the way and let it rot until it falls down on its own.”

To compare the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to yesterday’s Chromat runway is to grapple with a series of stark contrasts. While the Victoria’s Secret show favors a singular body type (young, long, lean, traditionally feminine, exceptionally toned), Chromat’s runway celebrated a constellation of sizes, abilities, genders and ages. While the Victoria’s Secret show has long provided fodder for clichéd dieting rhetoric around how the models eat and work out to hone their respective physiques into a preconceived ideal, Chromat’s runway was chock-full of glorious cellulite, soft bellies and jiggling skin. While the Victoria’s Secret show stands for nothing beyond what it’s there to sell, Chromat’s runway stands for everything from radical inclusivity to environmental sustainability (the brand’s swimwear is made with a regenerated nylon spun from fishing nets and plastic bottles that have been recovered from oceans). While the Victoria’s Secret show was most recently met with a combination of fatigue and criticism, the audience members at Chromat are known for literally cheering the model’s names as they strut across the stage.

It seemed to me, as yesterday’s whoops and claps of encouragement crescendoed, that Chromat was articulating a vision for a post-Victoria’s Secret future, attempting to fill the void that purported perfection always leaves behind, cracking apart its archaic mold with a more generous proposition for what it means to sell sex appeal. As for the palm leaves, I’m not sure whether the nod to Victoria’s Secret’s signature angel wings was intentional, but I’d like to imagine it was — a wink as subtle as those dispensed by models on Chromat’s runway, eyes clear and open, looking toward the future.

Photos via Vogue Runway.

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