Over the last 50 years, Brazilian art and fashion have undergone an explosion in creative and innovative thinking across all fields of artistic expression. Musicians, painters, sculptors, photographers, clothing designers, and more have cemented Brazil’s status as one of the world’s elite artistic cultures. Auction houses, galleries, and museums around the globe have elevated Brazilian art to a high standard of status and respect, while world-famous models and socialites have catapulted Brazilian style to the top of the global fashion industry. The growth may seem sudden, but the visions, hard work, and political acts of countless artists have come together slowly and carefully over decades to create the unmistakable impact of contemporary Brazilian fashion.
São Paulo’s Vibrant Art Scene
The vibrant city of São Paulo has long been hailed as the epicenter of Brazil’s art culture – a reputation that rings true for fashion icon Donata Meirelles as well. Like many prominent fashion designers and artists from around the country, Meirelles draws her inspiration from the city’s unique blend of Brazilian influences. Many museums dedicated to Brazilian art and style, like the São Paulo Museum of Art in the heart of the city or the Museum of Modern Art, showcase the country’s specific flavor. The city is teeming with galleries that feature local artists of every field, genre, and background. The works of Brazil’s greatest artistic masters are dispersed throughout the urban landscape. Some popular galleries like the DAN Gallery take a step back in time to the 1950s, an era of Brazilian art history steeped in nostalgia. You can still see the influence from this time and the golden age of travel when Brazil seemed like a more remote tropical destination. The artwork from that period maintains powerful influence over contemporary artists and has continued to drive Brazil’s booming fashion industry.
Donata Meirelles’ house in the Jardim Paulistano neighborhood of São Paulo is an iconic section of the city’s intricate artistic tapestry. Before Meirelles, the stately Portuguese colonial-style mansion was the residence of renowned politician and diplomat: Assis Chateaubriand. The structure is affectionately known as Casa Amarela, due to its bright ocher exterior, and was given to Meirelles as a wedding gift from her father. In addition to her own distinct artistic influence, Meirelles has used the home as a canvas for several style magazine articles. She frequently works together with other designers, filling the home with stunning and exuberant décor, infusing every room with touches of Brazil’s rich artistic heritage. Fashion designers and industry professionals from around the world have often drawn their inspiration from the witty and eclectic style for which the home is now known. Meirelles has invoked the spirit of São Paulo’s art scene by using layers of saturated colors and various textures in combination with classic and contemporary furniture. A collection of art by a variety of celebrated Brazilian artists gives even more substance to the sophisticated style of the home.
Colorful Natural Influences
Brazil’s landscapes and cities are rich in color – an environmental beauty showcased in the design elements of art, fashion, and style, which are often bright and bold. Contemporary styles continue to be inspired by the imposing Amazon Jungle and its tropical patterns – fabrics splashed with beautiful flowers, colorful birds, and exotic fruit. Brazil is one of the top fruit-producing countries in the world, so it’s no surprise that coconuts, avocado, papaya, passion fruit, and pineapple are inescapable images in fashion both on and off the runway. Apart from Meirelles, there are many quintessentially Brazilian influencers who are constantly re-shaping the very notion of what Brazilian style is and can be.
It is impossible to talk about Brazilian fashion, for example, without recognizing vintage fashion icon Carmen Miranda. She left a permanent mark on the collective notion of what made Brazilian fashion so unique. In fact, for anyone invested in the industry, the images most associated with Brazil are typically Miranda’s glamorous high-waisted skirts and iconic fruit hat. More recently, supermodels like Gisele Bündchen and Alessandra Ambrosio have added depth and sophistication to Brazilian style by incorporating body-conscious dresses and classic colors to create a flavorful flair. Brazilian fashion has also developed more depth beyond the lush tropical beach attire for which it has gained such international fame. Fashion role models like Costanza Pascolato have expanded Brazil’s fashions to include a broader range of age demographics. The industry has created a stunning but uniquely Brazilian style for older generations that combines luxury, timeless shapes, gold accents, and prominent sunglasses – a look that makes aging as graceful an art form as any.
Brazil’s Fashion Industry Boom
So, what is behind the continuously growing fashion industry in Brazil? For starters, the economic situation in the country has continued to improve despite setbacks. Brazilians are far better off now than they were a few decades ago. Art, however, does not always need a strong economy to flourish, and Brazilians have proven this. The nuances and mutual influences of a contemporary art and fashion scene cannot be reduced to a simple matter of economics. Although increased commerce gives many artists a distinct advantage even without financial growth, contemporary arts in many parts of the world are sustainable. Understanding why Brazil’s fashion industry, in particular, continues to flourish demands a deeper look – well beyond the realm of economics. Donata Meirelles knows that understanding a bit of Brazilian history can go a long way in explaining its global reach in the art and fashion arena. The miraculous boom that Brazilian art and culture has enjoyed over the last decade may have come as a surprise to some, but it has been a slow and simmering process taking decades to achieve. The quiet, deliberate process of developing a vibrant and uniquely Brazilian style was not part of a master plan by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, the development of contemporary expression was the result of persistence, rebellion, passion, dedication, and good old hard work from artists all across Brazil. The movement’s instrumental visionaries ranged from professionals to amateurs, from the rich to the poor, and they all had to struggle through decades of dictatorships, political corruption, and economic hardship before the fruits of their labor could be realized. For most Brazilians, the fact that they were able to attain global recognition for their art and culture despite all the roadblocks that were laid out before them inspires a proud optimism. Political and economic hardship were not able to keep Brazil’s art and fashion scenes down, and now they stand among the most recognized and respected sources of artistic influence in the world.
Local Brazilian Style
After Brazil became more open and accessible to the wider public in the 1980s, it enjoyed a booming art scene. The new-found freedom of visual expression allowed local artists to create beautiful and refreshingly new works without the ubiquitous government-sanctioned control under which they’d labored for decades. For the first time, they were free to follow their interests in whatever modern or contemporary style they desired. It didn’t take long for this new generation of artists to develop a uniquely-Brazilian style, and this movement, in turn, left its mark on the fashion industry as well.
Given a little bit more freedom in the 19080s, Brazil’s street art culture exploded into a counterculture phenomenon rooted in social resistance, freedom of expression, and unflinching commentary on harsh political realities. Brazil’s vibrant street scene has garnered global attention for demonstrating the dynamic nature and the potential of urban spaces through artistic expression. In cities with lively urban scenes like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the fashion industry noticed, and the influence was palpable. In the fashion world, Donata Meirelles sees the continuously changing street style as an endless source of inspiration; Brazilian street style and its influence have seeped into the work of many designers. Street style is inspired by the country’s rich history, natural beauty, and urban modern design. Though it’s rooted in the country’s counterculture, the street art style has become a very common ready-to-wear style that Brazilians enjoy on a daily basis. Recent trends have incorporated everything from colorful sneakers to embroidered denim jackets. Many of the style combinations are like nothing the fashion world has ever seen before, while others feel more familiar and are heavily influenced by Brazil’s artistic past. Popular street style for 2019 involves heavy use of contrasting primary colors – picture a bright yellow dress with retro blue sneakers. Black ensembles are commonly broken up using timeless leopard prints, scarves, shoes, and even jackets, all of which are great for bringing life to monochromatic foundations. The tomboy look is back in style with distressed denim jackets while all kinds of pleated skirts are rounding out the more feminine side. When it comes to Brazil’s famous nightlife, leather miniskirts and over-the-knee boots have become a hot combination heading into summer 2019.
Like most fashion designers in Brazil, Donata Meirelles agrees the most obvious influence on Brazilian style is the country’s tropical weather. Most of Brazil is hot and humid year-round – there’s a reason that locals and visitors alike are so drawn to the many beautiful beaches. As a result, clothing throughout the country tends to be short, light, and flowy so as not to trap in excess heat and to make the most of cool breezes. As mentioned before, the many colors and patterns typical of Brazilian style are inspired by the tropical surroundings of the country. Shifting cultural attitudes and growing appreciation for the practical nature of this light and more revealing clothing has helped many Brazilians grow more comfortable with their bodies. In general, Brazilians are willing to show off more skin than before – a trend which can be seen in the traditional but skimpy costumes and bikinis worn during Carnival. This has had a tremendous amount of influence over other countries’ swimwear, creating waves that help generate similar levels of confidence in people of other countries who are learning to show off more of their own bodies. Warm weather and a culture of confident, healthy body images have been the backbone of Brazil’s ever-expanding clothing industry. The nation is now internationally known for its vibrant, showy, and suggestive clothing. Its style transcends many cultures and countries because it is colorful, easy-to-move-around-in clothing makes it a popular choice for casual clothing – so much so that the country is now home to one of the largest fashion industries in the world, attracting more global luxury brands every year.
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The 21st-century wave of new-found acceptance of sparse wardrobe choices has been important, but the role of tradition has not lost its appeal in terms of influence on Brazil’s unique style. Local designers like Donata Meirelles continue to reach back to their country’s past for inspiration. Colors and patterns from prehistory are readily available through the arts and crafts of many indigenous Amazonian people. Many native artistic traditions have been preserved and passed down through the ages. By reimagining these ancient colors, patterns, and images, Brazilian designers have created an entirely new and unique style that honors the nation’s oldest traditions and artistic endeavors. Portuguese and Spanish influences are also very prevalent in Brazilian design. Traditional clothing like the “Ballet Folklorico” was originally worn during folk dances, but over time made its way into everyday outfits. Much of the exuberant flair for which Brazilian fashion is famous comes from the revival of tropicália, the youthful, radical cultural movement that swept over Brazil in the ’60s and ’70s. This artistic movement embraced the blending together all of Brazil’s genres, including foreign and Brazilian traditions and styles. Much of the art, music, and design from this time remains as an iconic romantic image of Brazil’s recent past.
Miniskirts, dresses, and boots are big this year, but let’s not forget that accessories play a larger-than-life role in Brazilian fashion too. Take a closer look, and you will see that the design aesthetic for any well put-together ensemble in Brazil is peppered with liberal use of accessories. This goes beyond the fruit basket for a hat, which to this day has taken the form of many tasteful and quintessentially Brazilian interpretations. Brazilian fashion is about expressing individuality, and the prominence of accessories is evidence of the Brazilian drive to establish a unique sense of style. Used the right way, they can completely change the look and feel of an outfit or create the perfect splash of color that ties everything together. Brazilians may be best known for accessories that are colorful focal points, but the everyday style in Brazil always includes some added touches.
Local jewelry designers draw from many of the same elements that their clothing counterparts rely on for inspiration. Meirelles points to the influences of sunshine, nature, Art Deco, and contemporary design that can all be seen in the hottest accessories for 2019. In São Paulo’s exciting jewelry design scene, the city itself is a source of inspiration. São Paulo is a world of contradictions and juxtapositions in which an enormous array of different cultures and architectural schools of thought coalesce. Some designers bring the vertical element of the city’s skyscrapers into their designs while others are inspired by the energy, liveliness, and contrasts of the city. The French-born Art Deco aesthetic has witnessed a recent revival, which has played out most notably in Brazilian jewelry design. Marked by a very minimalist look, Brazil’s world-renowned gemstones and gemologists are doing brilliant work creating simple but stunning pieces. Inspired by the Deco movement, the stones are cut to create the illusion of great depth. Goldsmiths is also working within this genre producing amazing Art Deco-inspired lines that can be found throughout the country. Mismatched jewelry has become very popular in 2019, helping to satisfy the Brazilian love of accessories. Mixing styles and colors is a great way to spice up a basic outfit. It also creates a clever medium to pull together all of Brazil’s vastly different design influences while feeding the need for individuality. Beyond jewelry, accessories in Brazil are popular for adding pops of color. Monotone outfits are popular right now, but in Brazil, they are accented and disrupted with bright colored scarves, hats, jackets, and even shoes. Of course, no outfit on the street is complete without big bold sunglasses. Just one of the many essentials from an aesthetic born in the sun.
Brazil’s local fashion industry has found a way to synthesize myriad, seemingly-incongruous influential elements from across the nation’s history and physical spaces: The iconic tropical environment, the rich artistic past, the diverse urban worlds, the edgy and responsive street style, and the oldest of native traditions. The result is a national scene unmatched in cultural diversity and character. Brazilian designer Barbara Casasola describes the feeling of local fashion as “Nature, space, and energy.” Hers is a good summation of all the cultural heritage and natural beauty that plays a part in the fashion landscape of one of the world’s most recognizable styles. By drawing inspiration from the past and present, the jungles and the contemporary cities, Brazil is sure to play an important role in fashion and design. In a world that is increasingly globalized and interconnected, Brazil’s sphere of influence in art and fashion can only grow.
Who is Donata Meirelles?
Donata Meirelles is a style specialist and one of the biggest fashion icons in Brazil. She is internationally respected in the fashion world and enjoys a broad audience with over 460,000 followers on Instagram alone. 2019 marks her 50th birthday and the celebration of over 30 years in the fashion industry. Her work in the design and fashion sector began at Daslu, where she worked as an international buyer. Meirelles was quickly recognized by the industry, earning her place among French fashion magazine L’officiel’s top 5 buyers in the world list. Her global recognition and experience in fashion combined with her global network landed her at Vogue Brazil as style director. For years, she helped shape the industry and was described by the Brazilian magazine as “one of the best Vogues in the world.” Her contributions have born considerable influence on Brazilian fashion trends, making her a household name among fashionistas throughout the trendy art scene of São Paulo and the entire country as well.
Meirelles is an ambassador for the Women in the World Foundation, Brazil, which supports several NGOs such as Gerando Falcões, AMFAR, and Brazil Foundation. Both AMFAR and the Brazil Foundation have lauded her for her philanthropic efforts at home and for her active work on behalf of both organizations.
Be sure to follow Donata on Twitter for more fashionable tweets.