Dear Shaded Viewers,
Last week I was in one of my favorite countries, Brazil, at the invitation of Texbrasil (The Brazilian Fashion Industry Export Program) to attend Dragão Fashion Brasil in the beautiful, beachy northeastern city of Fortaleza. Of the four BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), Brazil arguably has the most interesting and dynamic fashion industry, so I’m always interested in seeing firsthand what’s going on in this vibrant and fascinating country.
Dragão Fashion Brasil is the largest fashion event in the northeast and the theme of this edition (its 12th) was artisanship: handmade crafts created by the people of the northeast and other parts of Brazil. One of the things I love about the Brazilian fashion industry is that it’s very self-sustaining and doesn’t rely heavily on the economies and factories of arrogant China and the United States.
The collection that was most representative of the theme of artisanship was Conexão Solidária by Lindebergue. It also happened to be my favorite of the week. Here are my highlights from this very energetic show and a report on our visit to the brand’s atelier.
The leather piece on this dress is made from goat hide.
The white flowers that adorned a few of the pieces are made from the dried, stiff skins of giant fish that are native to the state of Paraiba.
The climax of the show featured all of the women artisans who worked on the collection under the guidance of designer Lindebergue Fernandes parading proudly down the runway with the models. They bore flags emblazoned with the names of their home states in Brazil. It was an empowering, exhilarating moment that brought the entire applauding audience to their feet.
It reminded me of the recent Christian Dior show in Paris: In lieu of an appearance by John Galliano (who is in rehab exile in Colorado, and banished perhaps forever from fashion), the house’s petite mains (“small hands” – the women who meticulously sew and create the designs) all appeared on the runway, to thunderous applause. My immediate reaction was: They should do that at EVERY show! Power to the Workers!
The following day we drove to the outer reaches of Fortaleza to the atelier of the brand. We met the designer, Lindebergue Fernandes (above) who answered many of our questions about his collaboration with the team of women artisans.
The specific technique of lace embellishment for the collection is called Bilro, which is done by hand with wooden sticks, chords and pins to create the various patterns. The women of the atelier hope to rescue this generations-old handcraft of the northeast, which is dying out because the young are not interested in learning it. This and other handcraft methods created by these women and the fashion designs conceived by Lindebergue are the heart of what makes Conexão Solidária vital to the uniqueness of Brazilian fashion.
It takes three or four different communities to bring together the various elements for one garment. For example, the embroidery on a blouse might be done by women in the northeast and combined with flower embellishments created in the south, with fabric milled in central Brazil. The collection that was shown on the runway is basically the haute-couture version; more commercial pieces are produced based on the catwalk looks–with all of it manufactured in this humble atelier.
The communities that create the collections are those that have been excluded from the market: economically marginalized women from rural and suburban areas and also from the favelas. The women receive decent salaries and overall commercial autonomy is attained. Take that, Chinese sweatshops!
The brand receives constant financial support from CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores aka the Confederation of Workers). They also receive funding from the Bank of Brasil Foundation. The one-of-a-kind pieces are sold to individual clients (and can be special ordered) while the ready-to-wear pieces are sold in shops all over Brazil.
Thanks for reading.