Designer Angela Brito On Highlighting Identity Through Fashion
Originally from Cape Verde and currently residing in Rio de Janeiro, Afro-Brazilian fashion designer Angela Brito uses her eponymous brand to look back at her heritage. Her story as a Black woman in Brazil led her to use her brand to raise questions on race in Brazil’s fashion scene, while taking pride in representing Cape Verdean traditions in her innovative womenswear designs. The clothes are extremely wearable, with elegant and maximalist styles rendered in eye-catching prints and bold colors. It’s clear to see that outside of her native Cape Verde, Angela also takes inspiration from nature, art and geometry.
Angela established her brand in 2014 with the idea of sustainability, identity and freedom of expression. All the brand’s collections are handmade locally in an atelier, doing its part to change the fashion industry by committing to sustainability, creativity and diversity. For example, Angela has cast mostly Black models at her fashion shows, to highlight Black identity in Brazil at San Paulo Fashion Week, well before the organization’s decision to ensure that 50% of models are Black, or of Afro or indigenous descent.
Her AW20 collection entitled, “Fuga” – Portuguese for “escape” – was presented virtually, even as it metaphorically represented the ideas of displacement and freedom around the world; the idea that displaced individuals can proudly express who they are figuratively and aesthetically through dress. The result is relaxed separates and mismatched shapes, non-traditional silhouettes and patterns that align harmoniously. In short, the collection is an autobiographical representation of Angela’s connection to her Cape Verdean roots as well as a prior technical career before immersing herself in the world of fashion.
The Folklore spoke to Angela Brito about her influences, empowerment and subverting expectations in the fashion industry.
How has Cape Verdean style influenced your brand’s aesthetic?
Cape Verde has a way of dressing that’s closely linked to tradition, the influence of the Catholic church in its history and also the aesthetic of militarization in the context of independence. It is part of my memories; I was interested in understanding the elegance of the people around me, always very sober and aligned, and at the same time subtle and welcoming.
What is the most empowering thing about being a foreign entrepreneur in Brazil?
Being a foreigner means understanding different social limitations. There is a constant feeling of not belonging, as the individual’s connection with his territory is broken, an important process for the construction of identity, and which raises prejudices and a feeling of marginality within the foreign space, especially if you are Black. On the other hand, it also empowers me because I feel like a citizen of the world, without limitations and that I belong to the world in general. I believe that the future must move towards a place where we can feel like citizens of the world, with all rights guaranteed.
What does using traditional African clothing designs mean to you?
In addition to Cape Verde, my fashion vision enters the African continent. I am interested in the image of subversive and original fashion from the diverse ethnicities and cultures of the continent, in the way of dressing, adorning and behaving. I am very interested in our ancient history with our traditional and handmade cloths, and I want to deepen this more and more.
We have many creative ways of making fashion, which for the most part is marginalized in the eyes of the West. As I had the opportunity to live outside Cape Verde and to visit other places, I have always admired the individuality in people’s fashion expressions, in different cultures.
What inspired your designs to have a strong emphasis on geometric shapes?
Geometric shapes enchant me. I love making patterns, drawing lines, creating asymmetric shapes. These bring me a sense of displacement that speaks to my history, my search. It also has to do with Cape Verdean fashion, which is rich in asymmetrical and straight silhouettes and the geometric patterns of traditional woven fabrics and the loom process. The fact that I studied a technological area for years brought me even closer to this silhouette in the construction of my pieces.
How has Brazil’s fashion industry shaped your practice as a designer
The racial structure of Brazil influences the business management of Black, national and foreign entrepreneurs, like me, as there is maintenance of racism, mainly within the fashion industry. It means that we are unable to develop economically and carry out certain projects such as the large ones managed by white people, although there is a lot of capacity and creativity to be developed by us.
What motivated you to become a fashion designer?
I’ve created clothes since I was a child. I spent hours of my life creating models and studying fashion. The practice of sewing was very present in my family. Seven years ago, when I decided to start the brand, my family was the first to support it. It is a long-standing passion that I decided to make my way of life and expression.
What drives you to change the perception of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil’s fashion scene?
Getting into Brazilian fashion was important for me to demystify the idea that there is a Black fashion, a unified Afro aesthetic. We are all individuals and we have our own different tastes, experiences and world views above our skin color.
What draws you to use nature and an earth-toned palette in your collections?
As I was born in Cape Verde, I was always connected to an island landscape.
The desert, the sandy and rocky terrains and the dry textures have always caught my attention as an aesthetic possibility. I try to print nature in my creations because my brand has this lightness.
Why did you describe your collection as an “improvisation of the blues?”
Blues music is a taste that I have carried with me for years. It is the kind of music that strokes my ears and gives me a feeling of nostalgia and freedom, just like the warm Cape Verdean. With “Fuga”, I wanted to express the feelings that the blues bring me in my designs and prints. Feelings of lightness, improvisation of life, dishevelment, fugacity and expression of freedom.
What inclined you to use mismatched patterns and misaligned shapes for your collection?
As I decided to use panu di téra in this collection, a traditional fabric made by Cape Verdean artisans, I chose to bring a more contemporary look to the collection. This handmade and rustic look of a handmade fabric brings a refined aesthetic, so I decided to use raw edges as finishings and misaligned shapes to make them a little younger. The mixture of geometric patterns happens naturally by the graphic overlay of the earth cloth in the designs I created.
Words by Eman Alami