Tag Archives: Brazilian fashion

Brazilian Tropicalia Fashions Embedded in Life Magazine, November 1971

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I recently came across an interesting photograph that was published in Life magazine on 12 November 1971, accompanying an article written and photographed by John Dominis and entitled ‘Taming the Green Hell: Brazil Rams a Highway Through The Wild Amazon.’ The article concerned the building of the Trans-Amazonian highway, a 4,000km road conceived of to unify Northern Brazil, which opened in September 1972 and ran through the Brazilian states of Paraiba, Ceara, Piaui, Maranhao, Tocantins, Para and Amazonas. In the top-left hand corner of the article, an image captured five Brazilian women straightforwardly in the frame, against a dull background of clouded sky, a wooden fence disappearing into the distance, and the green-and-white facade of a building. The caption that accompanied it read: ‘towns along the road are booming with such by-products of civilization as electricity and bar girls. On Saturday, hundreds of workers come into Altamira, above. Girls entertain the men for about $3 each.’ A closer examination of the photograph made me realise how simplified this description was in anchoring the meaning of the photograph, since it understood the women solely in terms of their availability as objects of a male gaze, and refused to acknowledge the layers of meaning embedded within their appearance as created by their fashionable ensembles.

Looking more closely, I saw that each subject met the photographer’s gaze directly, and enacted a variety of poses, from straightforwardly presenting the body to the gaze that scrutinizes them, to more stylised and performative fashion stances that revealed an uncovered thigh and high-heeled sandal. Their clothing is a combination of white nylon knee-high socks worn with white shoes, white and pink ankle-length dresses with thigh-high slits, and hot pants and overcoats in eye-popping psychedelic printed fabrics, all of which stand out against the general degradation of their arid surroundings. The clashing colours and swirling patterns that adorn three of the women’s outfits demonstrate the influence of contemporary Western-style hippie fashions, with their penchant for exposing the body, vibrant colours and mismatched prints and styles. Yet this was not a simplistic demonstration of a one-directional homogenisation of clothing that had travelled to Brazil from Western Europe and North America. This is because their dress also demonstrated the influence of the left-wing Brazilian artistic movement named Tropicalia, which was articulated as a response in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the repressive dictatorship that occurred in Brazil from 1964-1985. The Tropicalists re-defined Brazilian fashion, art and music by appropriating elements of Western-style hippie fashion, such as psychedelic fabrics, mini-skirts, hot pants and micro dresses, which exposed legs and thighs, and using it to demonstrate their sartorial freedom under rigid political control. Under Tropicalia, the meanings of hippie fashion, although still remaining non-conformist and rebellious, took on new meanings relevant to their Brazilian context. The women in this photograph were not part of the Tropicalist movement, but their clothing shows how elements of these popular political fashions filtered through into everyday dress worn in Brazil.

Taking all these sartorial references into account in our understanding of the image enables us to read it against the grain, and understand the women no longer as merely passive objects of a presumed male gaze, but active fashion consumers who contributed to the construction of their own identities through dress. That Life omitted to draw attention to the women’s dress can be understood as part of a broader omission within the Associated Press, which failed to outline the human rights atrocities taking place under a right-wing regime that was politically aligned to the Cold War interests of the United States.



John Dominis,‘Taming the Green Hell: Brazil Rams a Highway Through The Wild Amazon’, Life, pp. 26-31.

50 YEARS OF HISTORY OF DRESS AT THE COURTAULD Alumni Interviews Part Six: Elizabeth Kutesko, MA (2011), PhD (expected September 2015)

Each month in 2015, we will post an interview with one of our alumni, as part of our celebrations of this year’s auspicious anniversary. The Courtauld’s History of Dress students have gone on to forge careers in a diverse and exciting range of areas.  We hope you enjoy reading about their work, and their memories of studying here.

Liz (C) shown here at her BA graduation in 2011, with Elisabetta Pietrostefani (L) and Jonathan Vickers (R)

Elizabeth Kutesko, MA (2011), Current PhD

Elizabeth Kutesko is a third year PHD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is currently writing her thesis, entitled ‘Fashioning Brazil: Globalisation and the Representation of Brazilian Dress in National Geographic since 1988’. Liz has previously co-taught the BA3 course ’Fashion and Photography: Viewing and Reviewing Global Images of Dress’, and will teach it again next year, along with the BA2 course, the first that she ever studied at the Courtauld, entitled ‘Re-Presenting the Past: Uses of History in Dress, Fashion and Art’.

Where did you study and how did you become interested in the history of dress?

I studied my BA, MA and am currently in my third year of my PHD at the Courtauld. I was in my second year when History of Dress popped up on the syllabus. At first I was a bit sceptical…I’d studied fashion and textiles at college and dropped out to complete A-Levels at Sixth Form instead. I remember that my mum encouraged me to choose the special option, ‘Re-Presenting the Past: Uses of History in Dress, Fashion and Art’. It remains one of my best decisions yet. Rebecca is such a brilliant teacher, so enthusiastic about the subject.

So, was it really the construction side of dress and textiles, or the sociological context of dress that you were interested in? 

Both are important in understanding dress as image, object, text and idea intertwined, but studying the more theoretical side of such a multifaceted subject, with all of its allied ambiguities, fascinates me.

Your research draws heavily upon the representation of dress, and really how dress presents citizens bodies in ‘non-western’ cultures including Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. How did you find your niche? 

I travelled to Brazil in 2008 and arrived with little idea of what to expect, beyond an oversimplified awareness of urban violence pervasive in internationally acclaimed Brazilian films such as Fernando Meirelles’ City of God. By the time I departed, six months later, I was struck by the internal subtleties of its racial, religious, social, cultural, geographical and sartorial diversity. I was fascinated by how Brazilian identities had been asserted, negotiated and re-negotiated through their representation by the ‘West’. What kinds of problems and tensions did representation engender? Was the photographer always the one in control of Brazilian subjects, or did this dynamic shift as subjects’ self-fashioned and self-presented before the camera’s gaze?

I became interested in the Sapeurs, young men from Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) who fashion their own identities using Western designer labels, when Rebecca showed us the photobook in class by Danielle Tamagni, The Gentleman of Bacongo. Even though her specialism was Western European and North American fashion, Rebecca constantly broadened our horizons with images of dress from all around the world.

What methodologies guide your research approach to non-western representations of dress?

Despite a growing number of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural examinations of ‘non-Western’ dress and fashion since the early 1990s, there still seems to be a scholarly tendency to privilege enquiries into ‘Western’ high fashion. Although I’m well aware of the pitfalls of employing these generalised and ambiguous terms! I decided that I wanted my research to try and bridge that perceived gap between the Western and non-Western. I particularly like the work of Margaret Maynard, she is an alumna of the Courtauld, and she has considered what dress and fashion choices can tell us about individual subjects and their interactions with global culture. She refuses to understand globalisation as a synonym for standardisation, Westernisation or Americanisation, but examines all the interesting nuances and complexities that are woven into dress.

Your research crucially posits Brazil on the periphery of the West. In terms of the contemporary Brazilian fashion industry, has it evolved independently of North America and European influence, or towards it? 

Brazil is an interesting example. In the 1930s, inspired by Hollywood, upper-class Brazilian women wore furs in the tropical climate. They had to pay extortionate fees to keep the garments refrigerated. It was madness! In the 1980s, this penchant for copying resulted in Brazilian designers being refused entry to Paris fashion week, as they plagiarised the designs too heavily. But in the 1990s imports of luxury goods were allowed into Brazil without heavy taxes. Brazilian designers who had previously copied American and European fashion couldn’t anymore, because for a cheaper price, Brazilian consumers could simply buy the originals. Brazilian designers had to step up their game! It resulted in this interesting intersection of foreign fashion ideas and more local modes of dressing. Sometimes Brazilian designers really play on the exotic stereotypes of Brazil, with tropical prints and exaggerated representations of beach culture.

Do you visit Brazil regularly, and does your approach to dressing and perception of the body differ when you are there?

I’ve been to Brazil on two occasions but hope to return soon. I went on a research trip last year. Cariocas (Brazilians who live in Rio de Janeiro), have an interesting beach aesthetic, with lots of bright prints and colourful items. They wear a lot less on the street, with short shorts and little tops. It’s the antithesis of the more formal dressing habits of Paulistas (Sao Paulo residents), with their frantic pace of life! I packed a wardrobe with summer clothes that I would wear in London, but when I arrived in Rio I felt very ‘stuffy’ by comparison to everyone else. So I quickly found this shop, Farm Rio (http://www.farmrio.com.br/), which had some amazing patterned pieces and interesting designs. I bought lots of things, but when I returned home these clothes then seemed very wrong for British summertime. It’s interesting how we are subconsciously influenced by the way that people around us dress.

Who is your favourite designer, past or present and why?

That’s tricky! I particularly like this label called ‘Shrimps’. It’s by a designer called Hannah Weiland, who studied at Central St. Martins. Everything is made from faux fur in loads of outlandish colours and I absolutely love it: fluffy clutches, heels, jackets, stoles. Although I’m not sure how sustainable a fashion label based on faux fur is during summer time…

By the time this interview is published the academic year will be finished, what advice would you give to any future MA students?

You have to try very hard not to get bored, and to remind yourself why you like the subject so much. When I allow stress to take over, I often end up feeling completely unmotivated and unenthused, which is the worst state to be in when you’re trying to be creative! It’s really important to have a few days off to do something that you really enjoy. Even if it’s simply flicking through a magazine or newspaper, it will re-ignite your enthusiasm for the subject. Someone once said to me that if you have writer’s block it’s because you haven’t read enough, or you haven’t thought about it enough, so just read anything that inspires you or go for a long walk! (Ed note: I can attest to this tip, thanks Liz!)

‘L’Origami du Monde’: 032c Turns Ethnographic Gaze Onto National Geographic

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As I approach the last six months of my thesis, I’m currently in the process of piecing together a coherent visual narrative from the hundreds of pages of images I’ve examined over the last two and a half years. And there are a fair few; my thesis examines over one hundred years of National Geographic magazine’s representation of Brazilian dress, with a focus on the period since 1988, when the magazine celebrated its centennial. These magazine images are all contextualised, of course, by numerous examples from contemporary visual media, as I’ve tried to analyse the networks of meaning produced across the global mediascape.


Yet it was only fairly recently that a colleague passed on the Autumn/Winter 2013 25th edition of 032c, which featured an interesting pop-up art piece on National Geographic. I was curious to find out what sort of framework this Berlin-based contemporary culture magazine (which has been described by New York Times journalist Andreas Tsortzis as ‘below the radar of mainstream, but required reading for the movers and doyennes of the art and fashion world’) would adopt in commemorating the Washington-D.C. based, and now unequivocally mainstream, National Geographic. Entitled ‘L’Origami du Monde’, the artwork was created by French artist Cyprien Galliard to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the popular ‘scientific’ and educational journal. Gaillard is, after all, an avid collector of National Geographic. As he told Purple magazine: “It’s the kind of magazine your father had. It was this prism that you looked at the world through. There’s something very colonial about it.”


National Geographic was first established as a tall, slim scientific brochure devoid of images with a dull brown-coloured cover in September 1888.  It’s now a global brand that encompasses cable television, books, maps, merchandising, additional magazines and a website, all easily recognisable by its popular motif: a bright yellow border. Gaillard’s artwork in 032c juxtaposed six brightly coloured photographs sourced from unknown locations in the trajectory of National Geographic’s documentation of ‘the world and all there is in it’. The instructions that accompanied it read:

‘Gaillard’s art edition for O32c can be assembled by making three simple folds from left to right into the inside hinge of the magazine. No glue is required. This anachronistic monument is held together by tension’.

So the interpretation of the artwork, I quickly realised, was entirely dependent upon the 032c viewer, who acquired an active as opposed to passive participatory role in its construction. This offered an interesting twist on the common complaints about National Geographic’s distanced ethnographic gaze, which has rendered subjects as dehumanised objects. Rather than analyse National Geographic at arm’s length, as many of its harsher critics have, Gaillard provided a critical and material re-engagement with the magazine at close quarters, and encouraged readers to do the same. This provided an alternative re-reading of National Geographic that cut through its purportedly disinterested anthropological gaze. Of course, for the naïve reader, there is no doubt an excitement in looking at colourful photographs culled from National Geographic. Indeed, some might deduce that the aesthetic qualities of Gaillard’s sculptural collage present a further aesthetisisation and exploitation of National Geographic subjects. I would argue, however, that the aesthetic is a critical device used here by Gaillard to subtly draw the reader in, in order to then boldly undermine their preconceptions of National Geographic, by treating the magazine itself as exotic specimen.


Crucially, Gaillard’s sculptural collage was designed not just to be read, but to be felt too. The O32c viewer had to physically assemble the artwork with her hands, a process that encouraged readers to rethink dressed National Geographic subjects in multidimensional terms, experienced concurrently as image and object. As a result, L’Origami du Monde hinted at the way in which National Geographic has communicated with its readership not just in terms of linguistic signification or effect, but also through the sensations, memories, emotions and affect that have been folded into its representations of dressed Brazilian subjects.

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032c Issue 25 Winter 2013/4, pp. 158-167

Andreas Tsortzis, ‘A new breed of fashion magazine comes into vogue’, New York Times, August 20, 2007

Sven Schuman, ‘Cyprien Gailard: Architectural Hangover’, Purple, Issue 18 Autumn/Winter 2012

Zuzu Angel

Zuzu Angel, the mother of Brazilian fashion, Itau Cultural, Sao Paulo
Zuzu Angel, the mother of Brazilian fashion, Itau Cultural, Sao Paulo
The Pepsi Ladies, 1965
The Pepsi Ladies, 1965
Pink organza dress of pure silk, no date
Pink organza dress of pure silk, no date

I’m currently researching a paper that I plan to give at the conference we are holding on the 16th May, ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women’. My paper is entitled ‘Zuzu Angel: Fashioning Resistance to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, New York, 13th September, 1971’ and concerns the Brazilian fashion designer Zuzu Angel, who earned the title ‘Woman of the Year’ in 1969, awarded by the National Council of Women in Brazil.

On 14th May 1971, Zuzu’s son, twenty-six year old Brazilian student Stuart Edgar Angel Jones, was ‘forcibly disappeared’ in Rio de Janeiro by the intelligence agents of the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985). This was because Stuart was a leader of the left-wing guerrilla organisation, MR-8, who opposed the right-wing regime, which was covertly supported as a result of Cold War tactics by the U.S. government.

Prior to Stuart’s disappearance, Zuzu was celebrated for her exotic and colourful designs that drew on folkloric images of Brazil, such as Carmen Miranda and tropical flora and fauna. Yet following 13th September 1971, when Zuzu held a fashion show at the general consul of Brazil’s residence in New York, her designs initiated a radical change in tone. As she explained: ‘Four months ago, when I began to think about [the show], I was inspired by my country’s colourful flowers and the beautiful birds. But, then, suddenly this nightmare entered my life and the flowers lost their colour and the birds went crazy and I produced a collection with a political theme’.

Some of Zuzu's fabric prints
Some of Zuzu’s fabric prints

I began my research last year in Sao Paulo, whilst on a study trip researching my PhD at National Geographic Brasil headquarters. My time spent in Sao Paulo coincided with a fashion exhibition about Zuzu, held at the Itau Cultural Centre (1 April 2014 – 11 May 2014). It was curated by her daughter Hildegard Angel, a journalist and founder of the Instituto Zuzu Angel, with Valdy Lopes Jn, Itau Cultural’s art director, and entitled ‘Occupation Zuzu: Mother of Brazilian Fashion’.

The exhibition presented dresses, documents, objects, sketches, photographs and letters, some of which Zuzu wrote to famous Brazilian and foreign intellectuals, politicians, such as Henry Kissinger, and celebrities, such as Brazilian singer Chico Buarque, all connected to her attempt to draw international attention to her son’s assassination. Most notable in the collections displayed was the drastic change in Zuzu’s designs after 1971, which were much darker and more solemn, as can be seen in a long black silk gown printed with gold detail. Designs such as this one marked a stark contrast from earlier collections, which were exuberant and colourful, as can be seen in Pepsi Ladies (ca. 1965), and in her print designs, which used embroidered tropical birds.

My paper will examine the coverage of Zuzu’s sobering collection in the United States fashion press to consider the representation of women and maternal femininity. This will be contextualised within the broader news coverage of systematic torture in Brazil that was reported under the military regime. I’ve already done some research at the National Library in Rio de Janeiro, but I’ll be visiting the British Library to look at American papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Zuzu’s story is a chilling one in Brazilian fashion history, namely because she died in 1976, in a car crash whilst traveling late at night through one of the tunnels in Rio de Janeiro. It was discovered later that her car had been doctored by the Brazilian political police and her early death, like Stuart’s, was not coincidental.

Photo of Zuzu with a model
Photo of Zuzu with a model, date unknown, probably mid 1960s
Mourning of Zuzu, ca 1971-76, a mix of pure silk and muslin
Mourning of Zuzu, ca 1971-76, a mix of pure silk and muslin

‘Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Make Women’, a conference celebrating fifty years of history of dress at the Courtauld, will take place on 16 May at the Courtauld Institute of Art. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/researchforum/events/2015/summer/may16_WomenMakeFashion.shtml