Not-So-Basic Basics – CHAM by Christy Cham

Words:
April Ru Wan

When selecting an outfit for the day, it’s usually the base we start with. Whether it be a plain white t-shirt or a pair of your favourite jeans, playing with the basics is always a comfort. Introducing CHAM: the not-so-basic basics. Founded by renowned costume designer Christy Cham, the brand has thrived on filling a gap in the industry with its non-negotiable high-quality fabrics paired alongside skilled craftsmanship; CHAM is on its way to becoming every “modern-day women’s quintessential essentials” as the founder remarks. Christy’s eye for fashion was developed at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and she was further trained by Jacqueline West while she became an ongoing assistant for her on set. Fast forward to the present day, her success can be seen in a variety of films such as Dune and Killers of the Flower Moon. Check out our interview below to see the growth and lessons she’s experienced over the years and the exciting new plans for CHAM!

April Ru Wan: Your brand CHAM launched last summer, marking a significant milestone. Could you walk us through the journey of building the brand, including the key challenges and triumphs you encountered in the two years leading up to the launch?
Christy Cham: One of the most significant challenges I faced was finding someone capable of producing my proprietary fabric, which is the foundation of my line. After two years of searching all over the world, I finally found a partner who could deliver. Another hurdle was finding a skilled craftsman who could construct the garments to be as flat, seamless, and delicate as I envisioned. The moment of triumph arrived after multiple attempts, when I received the perfect  sample that finally met my expectations. My background in costume design is where I developed an understanding of fabric quality, and I was determined not to compromise on that quality.
AW: Having collaborated with some of Hollywood’s most celebrated creatives, including Jacqueline West, Martin Scorsese, and Denis Villeneuve, could you share the story of your career trajectory? Specifically, how has your creative spirit from childhood influenced your path?
CC: I was raised in Los Angeles before moving to New York at the age of 19. It was during my time at the Fashion Institute of Technology that I was first introduced to the world of costume design, prompting me to enroll in a specialized class. I began my career as a Production Assistant within the costume department, a typical starting point for many aspiring to gain enough experience to apply for the costume designers’ union. By the age of 22, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet the esteemed costume designer, Jacqueline West. Subsequently, I served as her assistant costume designer on numerous films (including The Revenant, Dune, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). This position allowed me to collaborate with some of the industry’s most coveted directors at a remarkably young age.
AW: The transition of a character from script to screen emphasises the importance of storytelling through fashion. Can you describe your approach to integrating fashion elements into character development? Do you immerse yourself in their narratives to achieve this?
CC: Understanding the psychology of colors and their ability to communicate non-verbally with the audience is crucial. Colors can elicit specific feelings, evoke certain emotions, and provide insights into characters’ personalities, often subconsciously influencing viewers’ perceptions. When a character appears in black, it can immediately signal to the viewers feelings of grief, authority, or malevolence, all without a single word being spoken. One of the reasons I launched Cham is because I was always looking for an alternative to traditional cotton jersey tees, which tend to read as messy or unkempt on-screen. Something as subtle as the composition of a fabric gives viewers a certain perception of a character, whether it’s conscious or not.
We immerse ourselves deeply in the characters’ narratives, attempting to understand what they would be wearing and why. This is why working on book adaptations or films that are based on a true story can be the most rewarding—there’s real research that can inform all the decisions that go into costuming.
AW: CHAM was born out of a need for high-quality, accessible basics essential for a character’s wardrobe. Many potential innovations are lost due to fear of taking risks. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs inspired by CHAM’s success?
CC: Our success comes from filling a gap in the basics category. Although I started with many ideas, it was the development of our proprietary fabric that truly defined my direction. I advocate for focusing on a single product and excelling in it. For Cham, that crucial distinction is our fabric.
AW: You’ve mentioned that the selection of fabrics for CHAM was inspired by the quality standards of a pair of tights. Could you elaborate on how this philosophy influences your material choices?
CC: The inception of Cham stemmed from my pursuit to develop a fabric that had not yet been explored in the fashion industry. My vision was clear: I sought a fabric that was soft and comfortable for all-day wear. I  didn’t want it to easily pill or fade, and I needed it to be stretchy to complement and flatter every body shape without looking like athletic attire or pajamas. My primary motivation for launching my own line stemmed from the difficulty in finding basic clothing that looks good on camera. Cameras often make clothes—especially simple, basic ones—appear somewhat disheveled, which fueled my ambition to create a fabric that overcomes this challenge, that feels easy to wear but has an inherent feeling of polishedness. I drew inspiration from the comfort and confidence that wearing tights provides. The snug fit, the put-together appearance, and the feeling of being seamlessly supported. This led me to a pivotal realization: why not create tops with the same attributes as tights? That “aha” moment became the cornerstone of Cham, guiding our commitment to produce garments that encapsulate comfort, durability, and versatility.
AW: With the arrival of spring, the Cashmere Bandeau and Long Skirt stand out as the season’s essentials. How do you envision these pieces being adapted for seasonal transitions?
CC: My fabric is so thin that it’s perfect for layering. I believe these fundamental silhouettes serve as the essential building blocks for creating versatile outfits that can be adapted and worn throughout the year. The whole idea behind the brand is that these are pieces so universal that anyone can adapt them to suit their personal style.
AW: The current collection features earthy tones with vibrant accents of ochre and green. Can you discuss the design process and strategy behind choosing this particular colour palette for the launch?
CC: While it definitely wasn’t a conscious choice, in retrospect, I think it’s possible that my selection of colors has been influenced by the films I’ve worked on. For instance, while working on ‘Dune’, director Denis Villeneuve had a very clear vision for the film’s color palette, which my ochre and camel shades fit perfectly. The green evokes the spirit of ‘Ninja Turtles’, which I also worked on earlier in my career. That said, I spent a lot of time developing the shades to be just right. I wanted to offer all the neutrals that are the foundation of most women’s wardrobes, but also offer some opportunities to play with bolder hues like my orange and green. 
AW: Balancing the roles of a young, acclaimed designer and a business owner is no small feat. How do you manage to maintain an equilibrium between your creative and entrepreneurial responsibilities?
CC: Over the years, my experience as a costume designer has instilled in me the importance of time management and dedication. The demanding nature of the industry requires not just creativity but also the ability to work hard and endure long hours. I thrive on being busy. Having balance is crucial for long-term success and personal fulfilment in such a dynamic and competitive field. Plus, I love what I do—that helps a lot.
AW: Looking ahead, what can we expect from CHAM in the future? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re particularly excited about?
CC: You can anticipate Cham evolving and further refining its identity as the quintessential brand for modern women’s essentials. My vision is to expand our offerings by introducing new collections that build on our core colour palette, introducing new silhouettes in our signature fabric and complementing them with other textiles like our cashmere pieces. This approach will allow us to enhance our range of simple yet sophisticated basics without straying from our MO: not-so-basic basics.
In the meantime, check out the launch of our upcoming seasonal colour, red—perhaps the most cinematic colour in the world and the shade I’ve spent the most hours perfecting—available now! 
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