Note from BW of Brazil: The clothing designer Farm recently made headlines when featured a group of models to show off their new ‘Black Retrô’ collection. As we all know, black models are for all intents and purposes excluded from Brazil’s top fashion shows, women’s magazines, or as protagonists in film and TV save very typical, stereotypical representations. This brand was the center of controversy very recently when it featured a white model posing in clothes with a theme associated with the African deity Iemanjá. Is it mere coincidence that the brand would release this new campaign only weeks after the controversy surrounding what many labeled ‘cultural appropriation’ as well as a continued shut-out of black models in Brazil’s fashion industry? Maybe so, maybe not.
But there are a few things to be said about the photos of this new campaign. 1) Great, black models are presented. 2) Will this change their relative exclusion from this market? 3) Why is it that black models, actors, etc. always be featured in “ethnic” presentations? It’s almost as if the brand what’s to say, “See?!? We present black models!!”
I’m impressed with seeing a campaign with black models as it is clearly rare in an extremely Eurocentric Brazilian market. But similar to all of the fuss made several years ago when Vogue magazine’s Italian edition released its so-called “all-black” issue back in 2008. If you happened to pick up that issue you noticed that, besides the pages that featured the special section dedicated to black models, the magazine’s pages featured its normal white-skinned models and the advertisements throughout the issue were still overwhelmingly white! In January of 2013, Brazil also presented it’s so called “black issue” and followed the same formula. And since these “groundbreaking” issues, Italy’s Vogue, quite like that of the US and Brazil’s, continued its monthly routine of featuring 99% white models. In other words, what’s changed?
The formula in Brazil in terms of the arts and media is pretty much the same as what one sees around the world when the topic is blackness. Black representation is very little and treated in the same way that holidays are often celebrated: It’s only for one day, the other 364 days will be b(l)ack to ‘normal’. What do you think?
Farm clothing brand discloses winter collection and re-ignites the debate on the representation of black women
by Aline Ramos
The Farm clothing brand presented its new collection inspired by black culture for winter 2015, Black Retrô. According to creative director, Katia Barros, the collection was imagined in a way to acknowledge the black culture that is part of the history of Brazil. “The collection was mainly thought about above all to recognize the beauty and elegance of black culture. The idea of bringing the retro within black culture is to redeem the elegance of the past, it’s a redeeming of the memory.”
Those responsible for the clicks were photographers Raphael Lucena and Carol Wehrs who depicted true works of art. Part of the collection was photographed in the Lençóis Maranhenses (1). “Lençóis brought an very precise aesthetic of art photography in this campaign, in addition, the place has an exuberant nature and a landscape that is often monochromatic, because we can only see the white of the sand or the blue of the sky and the waters, different visions that make all the difference,” explains Katia and Carlos, director of branding.
The collection is really beautiful, it’s something to behold. But there is something that bothers us when it comes to black women and fashion. Despite this initiative, Farm was involved in a recent case of cultural appropriation and racism posting in its Instagram a photo of a white model dressed as Iemanjá, a symbol of religions of African origins. The case received considerable attention because the rapper Emicida criticized the posture of the brand in the published photo (2).
Besides that episode, Farm is not a brand known for portraying black women in their collection, so there is the question of whether the goal is actually the inclusion of black culture. We believe that initiatives like this are interesting, but until there are women in various collections of brands like Farm, racism will still be a mark in the fashion universe. After all, even if present, the black woman is usually chosen for thematic and specific photo shoots, but is not part of this universe.
The lack of representation of black women in fashion is a target of criticism of 22-year old student, Victória Madeiro. Victória is taking the Fashion Production course at Senac, Lapa Faustolo (São Paulo) campus, and believes that this collection is not enough. “I want black people in all collections, because black people are people too and should be represented in the summer, in winter, spring and fall.”
For Black Retrô, Farm claims that it felt the need to do a collection with the theme of Africa since they made their first research trip to the mainland. But after all, what is África? What countries were visited, what is the peculiarity of each culture in which they came in contact? Treating África as one country is not only an error of clothing brands, but this concept of a distant and unique África is widely used in fashion editorials.
For Architecture and Urbanism student at PUC (Pontifical Catholic University) Campinas, Stephanie Ribeiro, it’s absurd how they portray a continent as rich and diverse as Africa. “Blacks in general in Brazil and on the African continent, always have a unique story and therefore is only shown when it is interesting in a particular context,” she criticizes.
Black beauty is always portrayed from the perspective of diversity, however, it’s necessary that it be increasingly the rule of an aesthetic and political context so we can advance black representations without falling into the reaffirmation of stereotypes.
Source: Que nega é essa?
1. The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses) is located in Maranhão state, in northeastern Brazil, just east of the Baía de São José, between 02º19’—02º45’ S and 42º44’—43º29’ W. It is an area of low, flat, occasionally flooded land, overlaid with large, discrete sand dunes. It encompasses roughly 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi), and despite abundant rain, supports almost no vegetation. The area became a National Park on June 2, 1981. Source
2. Joining in on the criticism against Farm usage of a white model to represent an African deity Iemanjá, popular rapper Emicida released this comment through his Instagram profile: “Using African culture as the basis for the creation of an element of authenticity always. Employing black models never. Brazilian Racism where no one is well and as such everyone is free to continue blameless. Sad, but without uneventful. #ubuntu”