Happiness and smile invade the hearts of Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, the whole city moves towards the accomplishment of another great spectacle of the Samba Schools. Art spreads through the avenue in the forms of samba, the samba dance, music, the luxury and originality of the carnival floats and costumes.
From all parts of the greater Rio de Janeiro, samba dancers, artists, anonymous and tourists head for the big meeting. There are millions of people who join together to transform Rio´s Sambodrome into a sea of Kings, Queens, Princes, Pharaohs, Indians, Pirates and whatever else your imagination allow, finishing at the “Praça da Apoteose” – Apotheosis Square. The eyes of the world become fascinated with the art, organization and creativity of Brazilian people. It's like a great myth: In the four days of Carnival, Brazil is the country of grace, cooperation and the maker of fantasy into reality.
At the dawn of Ash Wednesday, the carnival champions are acclaimed, at the same time at the vicinity of the Sambadrome, you can see hundreds of torn pieces of costumes and floats. The carnival costumes, a luxury item in Brazil´s carnival, unfortunately pile Rio´s streets, littering and polluting. Year after year the same scenario has repeated itself. When samba-school parade members cross the Apotheosis Square, after dancing for nearly 1,000 meters, he wants to feel free, and without any remorse, right there, on the outskirts of the samba temple, discards his/her costumes, including shoes, hats, etc. For many, this act brings to an end the sweet illusion of another carnival cycle. But could all of that art, creativity and labor employed at the outfits, deserve a better fate?
The creative process of a carnival costume is born in the traces of carnival designers and artists who work for the Samba Schools. All throughout the year, they design the adornments, choreography, and overall aesthetics in addition to the costumes, who all together, are transformed into the final parade. The major axis that will guide all the work is the plot – parade-theme, which is the story to be counted during the presentation of the Samba School parade. The costumes are born as chapters of this story. Each samba school parade member wearing a costume is part of a character in the plot. This involves a long process of investigation by the carnival designers and stylists. Historians review through hundreds of books, videos and literature, to validate the research about the parade-theme, and present it to the Carnival designer, who then grounded, may give freedom to his creative processes.
For a story to be told, it needs a beginning, a middle and end, naturally. So the first idea to emerge on the drawing boards will be opening the show, called within the carnival glossary, The Opening Wing, or “Comissão de Frente” in Portuguese.
This group preceding each parade of the Samba Schools, acts like the “business card”, in a preview of what the school will present. Usually there are 15 members at this wing, whose mission is to present the show that will succeed. The Carnival Designer ( “Carnavalesco “ ) along with the choreographer of the Opening Wing, then develops the concept of both the costume and the choreography that that wing will present. The costume will be made during the year by the greatest costume artists of the samba-school (seamstresses, cutters, costumes, props, art painters, milliners), because these are special costumes, which will be judged harshly.
Often the Carnival designer parade plot rescues forgotten parts of Brazil's history and humanity, emerging fantasies that lead to our heroes, our memory, our culture, backgrounds directing us to folklore. Only a few years, the Carnival Association in Rio opened up the possibility for the presentation international and universal themes within the parades. Nevertheless, samba-school needs to communicate and touch the sensitivity of its core audience: The carnival costumes of the Rio Samba-Schools represents then the “Brazil atmosphere” by the combining various materials assembled through chromatic art . The final product is the recognized quality and superior artistic sensation of the costumes, which are part of the inherent behavior of Brazilians: Joy, lightness, color, exuberance, originality, added to some spice, of course.
Generations of artists have been successful in the presentation of these wonderful true art creations. Many of them come from the School of Fine Arts / UFRJ, - Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which undoubtedly contributed to the great leap which the Samba Schools experienced over the last 30 years. This contribution helped the Brazilian Carnival to be recognized as the one of the greatest spectacles on Earth, and surely the most grandiose Carnival party on the planet.
In 1984, with construction of Rio´s Sambadrome, the Sapucaí Avenue (the name of the parade runway itself), samba-schools were then given a definite place for the presentation of the magical parades. (Before, the Carnival parades in Rio were organized in many different places.) Over the years, samba-schools have grown and their costumes and carnival floats accompanied this growth, so that the public away from the stands could capture the magnitude of the artist's intention.
After this structural turning point at Brazil´s Carnival, the quality of the costume at the parades greatly improved. From samba shoes to the little details, costume´s quality and overall aesthetics drew decisive attention, especially because of the impeccable eyes of jurors. (Important note for new carnival culture readers is that “costumes” is one of the judging criteria which determines at the end of all parades, which samba-school will become the carnival champion.) A little mistake or oversight can withdraw crucial points for winning the so treasured title of Rio de Janeiro Carnival champion.
Later, another major event pushed forward the Brazilian carnival samba schools and industry: The inauguration of the “Samba City”, cidade do Samba, where finally the samba-schools could be permanently be located, with a greater infra-structure. At this point on, a “healthy competition” started to take place, and a need for quality costumes increased, because of the improvement of the above mentioned. Just like the “space race” between US and USSR at the height of the Cold War, now we were seeing the “high quality costumes & adornments race” within Rio´s top samba-schools.
In recent years, the technological advances made possible the diminishing of the distances. People today can communicate freely, almost from anywhere on the planet, with the exception of a few countries, unfortunately. The computer and the Internet age finally enabled the information free flow around the world, in a ubiquitous and instantaneous form. Another recent transformation which added positively to this new paradigm was the growing interest in electronic commerce or e-commerce.
In today´s time, 2011, almost everything is available through the Internet, and almost everything can be bought and sold. In 2004, I myself, Bruno Villaça, through the British Council of Rio de Janeiro, received a visit from a British artist called Amanda Lorens. Amanda came to Rio to visit the Brazilian carnival and was so impressed with everything she witnessed, that when he returned to England, she ordered me some authentic Brazilian made carnival costumes to take part of an event organized by her at the Bristish Isles.
At this point I realized that people all over the world, would like to see, buy and receive an authentic Brazilian carnival costume of the prized Rio de Janeiro Carnival Samba-Schools,
From that point on, I started my own personal research on the Internet to check if there was a market or prospective buyers from abroad. To my surprise, on the supply side, there was absolutely nothing from the glamorous samba-schools from Rio. I was in a complete state of shock. I did see however, several kinds of costumes from all around the world, but none of them were even close, quality wise, to the standards we artists of the Brazilian Carnival were used to see and produce. I soon realized after talking to other artists around the world, spectacle producers, and even Director of foreign samba-schools, that the market indeed was there, but no one was filling the gap.
The main lesson of this test was to check if an idea could indeed become a reality. And my instincts too proved I was right. The costumes of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro had a great acceptance in the external consumer market, not only during the Carnival festivities, but also for events, shows, costumes, contests, blocos, etc. I could clearly see then that famed Brazilian Carnival costumes would become another successful export product from Brazil.
Now we are seeing this dream come true. This product ( Brazilian Carnival Costumes) which truly brings “the face of Brazil” is generating genuine jobs, income and knowledge. Artisans and craftsmen from the carnival industry, receive payment and benefits, unlike many other countries, as recognition for their talented work.
A portion of this new product export, can also be done by the use of the recycling of parade carnival costume, (of course, with different pricing), but has its place too in this new market, and contributes to the global ecology and specially the ideals of human and material resources reuse, all of which are applied in the making an authentic Brazil carnival costume.
A final point is to be made in terms of what you are buying. Carnival lovers and buyers of costumes must expect to receive a product for which they see through the image/ picture. Both image and the product must be impeccable. We know per experience, the buyer is in fact purchasing the image he sees on the Internet. For this reason, everything must be exemplary reflected, defined, explained and the product delivered consistently with his expectations.
The world has finally re-discovered Brazil: But fortunately now with “new eyes”, after the terrible years of inflation, economic downturns, and underdevelopment. Brazil now is back on track again, with gigantic oil findings, a World Cup and Summer Olympic Games just ahead the corner. Potential buyers for this “new” product are diverse: It may be a person who wants a costume for folklore, someone who wants to go to a costume party, a participant of a costume contest, or even a city museum, which needs a statement of the Brazilian culture and identity. Other examples of demands are samba show groups, drag queen shows, can-can show girls groups, or a samba-school parading abroad. Let me go now since the parade has already started, and I can´t miss the samba beat!
Article written by Art Carnival and Set Designer Director Bruno Villaça