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Exotic to Everyday: Brazil’s Passion for Fashion

Jan 28, 2010
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At the Ronaldo Fraga fashion show in Sao Paulo, the models appeared backwards, wearing wigs over their faces. They were able to see where they were going through a small parting in the hair.

London, Paris, and New York, the inviolable trio of style, may have to let another city into their exclusive circle. The images from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s recent Fashion Week have a wonderful sense of exuberance, a go-for-it attitude. On the world runway/stage, it certainly is attention-grabbing. Sao Paulo is the world’s seventh-largest city and Brazil is poised to take a greater role in the international fashion marketplace.

I recently spent a month in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (my visit even included Horizontina, Gisele Bundchen-Brady’s hometown!) I came home with pieces from Brazilian boutiques that will inspire my home sewing for years.
 
Brazil has a unique mix of historical cultural influences, from Africa, South America, Italy, Germany, and of course Portugal and Spain. I found bright colors mixed with animal prints and sexy, but not tight, styling. The sizing was generous, I discovered, because was very unusual for a store to have more than one item in any given style. I soon gave up asking for “my” size! Jeans were an exception, however. The tighter and lower-waisted the denim was, the better – and these “cigarette jeans” were worn by women of all ages. Except for shoes – and even they were high-heeled – you did not see menswear-inspired apparel for women in Brazil!
 
My trip was a cultural exchange, so I stayed with Brazilian families in their homes. I think I’ll be forever influenced by the style of the Brazilian women I met – and their passionate commitment to fashion, even on an everyday basis. I wanted to share two cardinal rules of Rio Grande do Sul style, based on my perceptions:

 

  • Walk tall and wear stylish denim. High-heeled boots and shoes were a wardrobe staple. I didn’t meet a single Brazilian woman in sneakers – or a sweatshirt. Jeans had to fit just right, so that meant stretch denim. I picked up an pair of Triton jeans in a store in Ijui, Brazil. They cost about $320 reais ($160 dollars). They have two things I’ve never seen on American jeans: a bias-cut waistband and slant front pockets.
  • Earrings and hair must be long. Gisele-type hair was common, long and straight and worn down. I wouldn’t have considered wearing long, dangly earrings on a daily basis, but a Brazilian women wouldn’t consider NOT wearing them every day.  Back in the United States, I did have to break myself of the habit of putting on pink crystal chandelier earrings to go to the grocery store – but then I think, why not wear them? Seeing the photos from Sao Paulo rekindled my appreciation for Brazilian’s exotic style, and their ability to keep the exciting a part of the everyday.

Controversy that has arisen this week about overly thin models appearing in the shows at Sao Paulo. I think it’s a symptom of fashion marketing overall, and not a sign of things in Brazil, where curves are celebrated. I didn’t see a bathroom scale the whole time I was there.

What inspires your sewing?

Getting the chance to travel and meeting women whose style I admire are sewing motivators for me. Sewing is a creative outlet for my fashion envy! Have you every been on a trip that changed your style outlook? I would love to hear about travel that inspired your sewing. Let me know in your comments below.

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  1. Skymom February 2nd

    Thanks for this coverage of style in Brazil! It's always fascinating to hear how women in other parts of the world view fashion.

    I haven't been traveling anywhere too exciting in a while, alas--but in years past I've lived in Europe, and found fashion trends there eye-opening. In Paris, women did exactly what we're "supposed" to do: bought fewer pieces of nicer quality, had them tailored to fit well, mixed and matched imaginatively, "borrowed" from the guys (fine shirts, cashmere sweaters, scarves and mufflers), wore interesting hosiery, and invested in things like a really good haircut and very nice skin care. Even though the latest fashions were visible everywhere, most women didn't seem to buy into the idea of changing their look completely every season; they seemed to pick and choose what worked best for them. I did have one professor who shopped exclusively at Sonia Rykiel, and she look fantastically high-fashion at all times.

    In Amsterdam, things seemed quite different. Overall, fashions were much more casual than in Paris or New York, and when I was there (mid-80s) the overriding color palette was much more somber than in the States at the time--I recall being completely baffled by the pervasive habit of wearing head-to-toe black and brown (together). Hair was worn long and natural, but given the fact that most people travel by bicycle in a very damp climate, this made perfect sense. I was in a student-oriented setting mostly, but didn't see much difference between the student look and the "career" look. Overall, not nearly as inspiring to me as Paris, but I learned a lot about layering to manage weather conditions, reconciling wavy hair and humidity, and riding a bike in a short skirt!

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