Reunidas and Brazilian heritage feature in the new print edition of Faux Pas magazine now available from stockists across the globe.
Founder Edward Neale writes about reviving Brazil's heritage and paving the way for the future of it's menswear industry along with Frescobol Carioca, VEJA and Granado with photography by Alex Batista.
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Reviving Brazil's heritage and paving the way for the future of its menswear industry
Brazil can come across as having a cartoonish image of tropicalia. Today, almost every Brazilian concept launched outside of Brazil involves the beach, or the ubiquitous twirl of verdant green tropicalismo. Brazilian fashion is no exception – sand, samba and football still dominate. At a stretch, a zest of Amazon rainforest may make the collection.
“Brand Brazil” can trace its origins to the 1930s and the unprecedented national identity creation project of populist dictator Getúlio Vargas, epitomised by Carmen Miranda’s fruit-basket hairdo and Walt Disney’s smooth-talking parrot Zé Carioca.
So overwhelmingly successful was this pastiche that it came to monopolise the country’s global identity. An identity that now finds itself shackled to a cliché - a caipirinha fuelled beach party with a samba soundtrack.
But how has a nation larger than the contiguous United States, with the largest descendancy of Italian and Japanese immigrants in the world, not to mention the rich African heritage, come to have such a narrow brand narrative?
Latin America’s most populous nation, made up of continental vastness and a variety of cultures was not always projected in a narrow light. A rich and diverse heritage dispersed across traditions such as craft and tailoring. A large Italian community, who’s shirt makers and craftsmen poured into São Paulo from the 1880s onwards, and a Japanese diaspora including artisans, are less well known. As are British traditions, that spread through commercial ties during the 19th Century. During the 20th Century, modern Brazilian design grew not from blindly following European ideas but in assimilating them into something that became uniquely Brazilian. These rich craft cultures, from the Japanese attention to detail to the Neapolitan panache for unstructured silhouettes, made for an exceptional tailoring tradition and a differentiated menswear style in the Brazilian climate. Defined by improved fit and comfort with Brazilian flair, the shirt making innovations included the curved Brazilian yoke for shoulder comfort, the lowered top button & natural unfused Brazilian collars & cuffs, while using extra-fine Peruvian cotton. By the 1970s many of these Brazilian crafts - that benefited from an abundance of local South American raw materials including cotton, leather and rubber - started to vanish as the country slid into turmoil under the military dictatorship.
Building awareness of overlooked, deeply cosmopolitan parts of Brazilian history and culture, is what Reunidas, through their tailored shirts, is about and showcases how the environment of the new-world can collide with old-world traditions. Other labels such as Frescobol Carioca and Veja, with their sophisticated beach wear and ecological footwear respectively, are also part of the nascent movement for reviving Brazilian menswear. The trend extends beyond clothing – Granado, Brazil’s oldest pharmacy, is channeling it’s unique imperial Brazilian history and is starting to export more of it’s nostalgic men’s grooming products.
Fashion can be a tool that projects not just an identity of a wearer, but the identity of where a garment was made. The construction of a garment can showcase a mix and diversity of cultures of a land. We could therefore hope that fashion can bring awareness of culture and revive communities and “Brand Brazil” may no longer be steeped in stereotypes.
For instance, surf culture has become the proverbial albatross around Brazilian menswear's neck. Osklen, a brand from Rio de Janeiro, is the stand out surf-wear success story and countless surf and bikini brands are still attempting to replicate their success. Brazil must move on. The fates of many incumbent Australian and Californian surf brands should serve as cautionary financial tales and the recent development of more sophisticated ‘indie’ menswear industries in those regions that offer richer stories and better designed products for consumers are cases in point.
Brazil must broaden its image to earn a place on an international stage. Fashion must be brave and continue to look beyond the beach. Encouragingly, there is much to show the world. With an entire continent brimming with history and raw materials behind it, a new wave of global brands are emerging.