Every four years, attention is drawn across the planet to a different city, a city looking to diminish stereotypes and boast their successes to the rest of the world. The year 2016 will ensure the world’s gaze will turn to the Brazilian capital, Rio de Janeiro, which will be the first South American or Portuguese speaking country to ever hold this prestigious event. This colourful and exotic city will be under scrutiny from the remainder of the world, and we will look to gain insight into this curiously seductive capital, known as the cidade maravilhosav…‘the marvelous city’.
In my mind, I question what depiction of themselves the people of Rio de Janeiro, cariocas, will want to convey to the rest of the world whilst they have this opportunity.
To most of Europe, and especially North America, Latin American countries, such as Brazil, have been seen as almost an ‘exotic curiosity’, a tropical novelty rife with stereotypes we have ourselves created that we can marvel at. And for us to exploit. Sultry beaches and steamy rainforests set the scene for seductive samba and the extravagant carnaval.
Altogether overlooked by Christo himself, his arms outstretched across the bustling tropical landscape. As with every other country in the world, hidden beneath these clichés we are all too familiar with, is a darker, more somber side to Rio. Beneath the overwhelmingly beautiful landscape, lie cascading favelas, social apartheid and a city rife with crime and corruption. Only time will tell if the cariocas play to our pigeon-holed expectations of a thriving, tropical gemstone in the heart of South America. Or will they convey the true depth and profundity of Rio de Janeiro?
This question of the identity of Rio de Janeiro will in itself become the macrotrend of 2016. Tropicana and exotic trends have reared their heads numerous times over the years, with bright tribal/floral prints and encrusted jewels and gemstones for summer beachwear looks. But this in itself calls upon the stereotype of Brazil and Latin America. It has become decidedly ‘over-done’. It is time for a more educated look at how Rio can influence the fashion industry. And where to start? The lady in the Tutti Frutti hat herself: Carmen Miranda.
It is her overbearing and exaggerated shadow that reigns tyrannically over Brazilian culture. Her image and persona are the metaphor for Rio de Janeiro, the eccentric yet sensual showgirl femme, taken in and exploited by the masculine North America. But, as with the city itself, there was a darker side to Miranda’s life, thus making her the perfect representative to define Rio’s struggle with identity.
The Broadway and Hollywood musical star made her entry to fame in Brazil and lived a popular career from the 1930’s through to the early 50’s. She spent her life living a metaphorical tug of war between her beloved Brazil, and the ladder to world-wide fame in North America. By the time she reached Hollywood in the 1940’s, she stood tall and proud, towering in colossal platform shoes and lofty fruit-laden headdresses (in reality disguising her mere 5ft 3in height) as the richest woman in Hollywood. Opening the world’s eye to the richness and culture of Brazil, she blurred the lines between ethnicities and took emphasized influence from all corners of Latin America to create her image, in the hopes of furthering her success and becoming an ambassador for Latin Americans across the world. This eventually backfired and the South American’s rejected her image, her portrayal became an offensive stereotype that reflected her as nothing more than a ditzy showgirl with little intelligence. The Brazilian Bombshell had been ‘Americanized’. This knocked Miranda hard, she was rejected by those she loved and lived for the most, and tied in with a tumultuous and abusive relationship with her husband, a dependency on drugs and alcohol, and exhaustion from overworking, she fell into decline in the last years of her life. Ending, eventually, with her collapsing on stage of a heart attack and dying later that night.
Surely this demonstrates her as the perfect metaphor to represent the tainted yet stereotyped image of Rio de Janeiro in 2016; all eyes will be on them briefly, before quickly being criticized, dropped and disposed of by America and the rest of the world.
Visually, this will culminate in aesthetically addressing these conflicting ideas and interpretations of Rio and Miranda, via colour palettes and silhouettes, boiled down from the idea of truthfully looking and isolating the reality of Rio de Janeiro, Carmen Miranda, and Tropical Culture.
In the same way that this trend is a call to steer away from Latin American stereotypes, it is a call to avoid Tropicana cliches. Bin jewel coloured floral prints, Day-Glo brights and colour blocking, and instead investigate primary fabrics, photos and postcards of Rio in the mid 20th Century. The truth is that when each shade is isolated on its own, it reflects a more sombre, antiquated tone of pink, green or blue. Shades that appear to have been left in the simmering sun for too long.
Monocolour: earthy pinks, mossy greens and grey blues, dusky palettes that through their contrasts highlight each other when used in retro, yet simplistic prints that don’t overly draw attention. Nothing overdone, no OTT; colours that reflect more melancholy and sobriety than kitschy cliches of faked joy and exultancy. This particular colour palette was achieved by placing well known images of Miranda in full bombshell persona under a veil of black and grey, and then seceding the image to remove key colours from her costumes. A photo set using varying images of her across her career, manipulated in such a way surprisingly
revealed comparable tones.
Prints will be used sparingly, on linings and small features to highlight the
erogenous zones, but these colours will be applied through traditional tailoring fabrics in a block or ombre fashion, to suggest a formality discussed in the silhouettes, all of which were inspired by Miranda’s day-to-day dress, which was almost utilitarian and subdued in comparison to her stage costume.