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Brazilcore: How favela fashion became cool | Fashion trends

The Brazilian flag served as an emblem of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right populist politics. Now designers like Abacaxi are reclaiming it for all Brazilians while celebrating the style of the favelas. “Who said the flag isn’t ours?” Abacaxi wrote in one of his Instagram posts. The photo shows models wearing the fashion designer’s Brazilian collection: dressed in flag-inspired yellow and green shirts, skirts and bikinis, they wave the Brazilian flag.

Designers like Abacaxi are reclaiming the Brazilian flag for all while celebrating the style of the favelas. (PIÑA/Abacaxi)

The Rio de Janeiro-born designer released the clothing line in the middle of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, between 2019 and 2023. At the time, the Brazilian flag was seen as a political symbol of the populist right-wing politician and his followers. “He tore the flag away from us,” Abacaxi told DW in Rio. “The Brazilian aesthetic disappeared from the favelas, Brazil’s densely populated urban neighborhoods, when Bolsonaro became president.”

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This is exactly what he is trying to change with his fashion label Piña. Abacaxi’s goal is nothing less than to reclaim the meaning of the Brazilian flag and its colors as a symbol of national identity.

A Brazilian football fairy tale

In 2002, when Ronaldo led the Brazilian national football team to its fifth World Cup, Brazilian flags could be seen across the country, decorating homes, cars and shops. Children wore Brazilian jerseys and dreamed of becoming soccer stars. The Brazilian team’s jersey became a symbol of national pride. That is, until Bolsonaro arrived on the scene and instrumentalized the flag for his purposes. Now Abacaxi wants to bring the ‘Brazilian look’ back to its origins: to the favelas of Rio.

Brazilcore: a yellow-green renaissance

When Madonna held a historic major free concert in Rio de Janeiro in early May, dressed in Brazilian colors, and kissed a transgender woman on stage, she clearly showed that the Brazilian flag belongs to all Brazilians – and not just the conservative environment of ex President Bolsonaro. .

Inspired by Madonna, the Sao Paulo Trans Pride March, which takes place on May 31, has described the phenomenon as a “renaissance” of the national colors and even called on all participants to carry the flag during the parade. Someone wearing a Brazilian T-shirt on the streets of Brazil is no longer automatically assumed to be politically right-wing. But this is not just because of Madonna, or the fact that Bolsonaro is no longer president.

Hello Bolsonaro, hello Hailey

Long before Madonna, other stars, including international stars like model Hailey Bieber, musician Lady Gaga and model-actress Emily Ratajkowski, posed in Brazilian T-shirts, spreading the fashion trend known outside Brazil as “Brazilcore.” After Bieber posed in a Brazilian shirt in 2022, videos tagged #Brazilcore began circulating on TikTok. Influencers explained how they style their Brazilian shirt.

It was only a matter of time before the French edition of the fashion magazine Vogue described Brazilcore as the “flagship trend” of summer 2023. Suddenly, a look long associated with lower socio-economic classes had become “respectable” – the gaze of precisely those individuals who, in the 2000s, saw the dream of a football career as a way out of poverty.

The favela aesthetic

Abacaxi considers this look art. The 24-year-old is proud of his identity and heritage. He is a “cria” – a self-identification word used by individuals born and raised in favelas. In the case of Abacaxi, it is Vila Kennedy, an urban suburb of Rio de Janeiro known to the city’s elite only through the headlines. “From VK to the world,” reads his Instagram profile.

Abacaxi, which means ‘pineapple’ in Portuguese, is actually the designer’s nickname. A friend once called him out after he ate so much pineapple during a bout of heartbreak that he actually made himself sick. The name stuck and he later decided to name his fashion label ‘Piña’, which is the Spanish word for pineapple.

As a schoolchild, Abacaxi was interested in fashion. During class he drew clothes without attracting attention. “Secretly, so I wouldn’t get bullied. I was always a very feminine child, I was always queer,” he said.

Dress code: cool

At the age of 15, Abacaxi started attending so-called funk parties in the suburbs of Rio. These are parties where ‘baile funk’ is played – a Brazilian music genre that combines hip hop and electronic beats and that originated in the favelas of Rio. “That was the moment I fell in love with fashion,” he recalls.

“Everyone at the parties was so well dressed that I wanted to look good too. So I started creating my own looks,” he explained. He sold his outfits in a second-hand shop in a favela. The name of the store: “Abacaxi’s Shop.” His first collection grew from these party outfits. As demand increased, his cousin started helping him sew. At the age of 18, Abacaxi began working fashion designed for a Brazilian label. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he launched his own brand: “Abacaxi’s Shop” had become Piña.

Brazilcore represents the joy ‘to show who we are’

Since then, Abacaxi’s ambitions have gone beyond “just” wanting to recapture the flag: he wants to create respect for the aesthetics of the favela. “Many people find my appearance vulgar,” he said. “All the more reason why I want people to understand that this aesthetic from the favelas is art. I see what is happening here as the highest form of art.”

Abacaxi would like to one day present his designs on runaways. He would like to see them on Brazilian models, on crias of all shapes, sizes and genders – crias like himself. And every day Abacaxi’s dream becomes a little more reality. Today, Brazilian stars such as singer Anitta, choreographer Arielle Macedo and rapper MC Soffia wear his outfits. Abacaxi can now live from his work.

For him, Brazilcore is much more than a fashion trend: “For me, Brazilcore represents the joy and courage behind showing who we are and where we come from.”

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