Posted on December 04 2016
The Fashion World of Sao Paulo and the Runway Show that May Have Changed Everything By Nia Hampton
Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America and the 12th largest city by population. It’s also the financial center of South America and has the 10th largest GDP in the world. It’s South America’s New York, if you will. Home to the second largest group of Italians and Japanese outside of Italy and Japan Sao Paulo is probably the most diverse city in South America. But this diversity has a few insidious roots. “Blanqueamento” meaning literally “whitening” was a movement that emerged in all of South America in reaction to the end of slavery. Whitening gained major traction specifically in Brazil, where elitist intellectuals believed in racial hierarchies.
Oliveira Vianna wrote a text that would be used as the introduction to the 1920 census, in which he explains how the Portuguese who colonized Brazil, were actually of “blond Germanic origin” and that darker skinned Portuguese who were closer to the Iberian race came to the continent after it had been settled because they were of “sedentary habits and a peaceful nature”. He would then go on to list the racial hierarchy with Europeans at the top and Africans at the bottom. Heavily informed by eugenics, the theory and practice of breeding desirable races together and killing off those deemed as undesirable, Vianna and others set a perfect stage for “blanqueamiento” to occur in Brazil. Anxious about the dominant population of formerly enslaved people of African descent and eager to relate to the European Empire, Brazil invited Europeans from Portugal, Italy, Germany and other countries to come to the South and work on plantations.
However, once the European immigrants got the new country and realized how blight the working conditions were, they stopped working on plantations. The Japanese, who were suffering from poverty in the rural areas due to the end of feudalism, and found themselves banned form emigrating to the United States and Australia, came to Brazil in droves. After the second World War, those numbers jumped yet again, as Brazil found itself a safe haven for Nazi’s fleeing Germany, many of whom settled in the South. Brazil held a strict ban on immigrants from the “black race”, as the plan was for the newly emigrated Europeans to whiten the national phenotype. Anti-miscegenation laws never took steam because the plan was to encourage a mixing of the races in the hopes that the resulting person would be closer the European phenotype. This national ideal and practice was mistakenly not seen as racist, but please keep in mind that at the same time, blacks were barred from joining certain industries and public offices, owning guns and even going to school. So in Brazil, you had to whiten your family line or be pushed into marginalization.
However, the amount of enslaved Africans who were bought to Brazil is so huge that today 50 percent of the population claims African ancestry. But you would never guess that by looking at Brazilian media. The people on the TV, in the magazines and in the movies look closer to those of European descent then Brazilians born in the country. Nowhere is this case more apparent than in fashion. The most famous Brazilian woman and highest paid model in history, model Gisele Bündchen is white and blond. And this is by no means a mistake. Brazil, home to the largest population of African descendants on the Western Hemisphere, has put a lot of time and dedication into presenting the white image.
Enter- Emicida and Lab Fantasma. Emicida, compared to Jay Z by some, is a Brazilian rapper, who gained his skills through battle rapping has spent the past two decades becoming a huge success in Brazil. One of his most recent and groundbreaking videos, “Boa Esperanca” depicts maids and butlers revolting on a huge estate in Brazil, and has been compared to Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”. He and his brand, Lab Fantasma took a page from Kanye West’s book and presented at Sao Paulo Fashion Week this past October. His line of active wear and shirts draws on the legend of Yasukia (Yasuke), the black samurai and plays on the fact that despite being a huge part of the Brazilian population, and great influencers of the culture, Black and Japanese Brazilians are largely ignored in the mainstream Brazilian media.
Featuring a majority of black models of varying sizes and skin tones, this runway show totally broke the mold. The collection featured kimonos, shirts, shorts and jackets. The prominent colors were white, black and red and styles drew heavily from a Japanese aesthetic. Stella Yeshua of “Estaremos lá”, a popular Youtube vlog that focuses on the lives of black women in Brazil, had this to say about the show, “It was a big moment for me…I had been coming to Fashion Weeks for 10 years. One year, the theme was Africa, they featured no black models at all. But this show, I cried. It was a show with all black models, that’s not the norm for Fashion Week. I cried. It could seem frivolous, but for us here, who never get to see ourselves, it was a big deal.” Rico Dalasam a rapper who walked the show as well, also brought up really good points. When asked how the fashion industry received the show he replied, “Of course everyone clapped and said nice things about it. No one is crazy enough to say something racist out loud. But if this is the only show of it’s kind- if next year features no black models or designers, then we’ll know how they really felt.”
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