Far from catwalk, Brazilian favela dreams of fashion

Far from catwalk, Brazilian favela dreams of fashion

SAO PAULO - As the setting sun casts an orange glow over the Sao Paulo slum of Paraisopolis, a dozen aspiring models sporting towering heels strut up and down an improvised catwalk.

"Posture, attitude! Walk straight, stop. Again, walk!" shouts their coach, who is teaching the teenagers the tricks of the trade as part of a project to spread the glitter of the Brazilian mega-city's famous fashion week, which wraps up Friday, to some of its poorest residents.

They are far from the cameras, footlights and glamour of the main event, the largest fashion show in Latin America, which has launched careers like that of supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who strutted Wednesday in her final runway show.

But these teens are taking the idea of couture into their own brightly manicured hands.

The project, whose name roughly translates as Fashion From the Fringes (Periferia Inventando Moda), was launched by Alex Santos, a 24-year-old fashion student from the slum who wanted to bring some of the glitz of Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) to his own community.

"A year ago, I went to a show by the designer Joao Pimenta that SPFW held in a poor neighborhood. And I had a revelation," Santos told AFP.

"I thought, 'Why don't we create these events ourselves?' It's great for SPFW to come here and hold shows, but we can do the same thing."

That is how Fashion From the Fringes was born at the municipal education centre in Paraisopolis, which, with about 100,000 residents, is one of Sao Paulo's largest favelas, or slums.

As part of the project, Santos organises runway shows, talks on fashion, and modeling workshops that include lessons on self-esteem, like the one these local teens - mostly girls, but also a few boys - are taking part in.

Pimenta, the menswear designer whose show inspired the project, is now its sponsor.

"Brazilian fashion will be stronger when everyone is included," Pimenta told AFP.

"Fashion can go anywhere, without regard to class or skin colour. And inspiration can also come from unexpected places."

Country of contrasts

"I've wanted to be a model since I was a little girl. And now, with this workshop, I'm taking it seriously," said 16-year-old Gabriela Freitas, a tall, slender girl with large eyes and flowing hair that reaches her waist.

"I learned to improve my posture and how to walk on a runway. I never thought I would be able to do something like this, but now I see that yes, it's possible."

For other participants, the workshops are less about a future modeling career than the life skills they learn.

"I'm black, I come from the slum. I live in Paraisopolis with my mom and my grandma and I know that everything will be harder for me," 19-year-old student Denisse Sena said matter-of-factly.

"All my steps to get ahead start from that situation, and this workshop is helping me develop myself better."

Like many of Brazil's favelas, Paraisopolis shows the country's contrasts: it is a violent, impoverished enclave surrounded by the wealthy district of Morumbi, a neighborhood of towering high-rises and glistening shopping malls.

Two workshop participants already scored a modeling job with Pimenta, who had them photographed on the streets of Paraisopolis for a recent advertising campaign.

Brothers Anderson and Ebson Conceicao da Costa, 16 and 18 years old, were at the workshop with their sister when the designer discovered them.

"We learned and saw a lot of different things," said Ebson.

"If you're born in a place like Paraisopolis, you usually don't get those kinds of opportunities."

 

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