Zuzu Angel, The Rebel Of Brazilian Fashion

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Image via © Acervo Instituto Zuzu Angel

Brazil is in the news for the 2016 Rio Olympics and the Zika virus. What’s also been mentioned, and currently glossed over, is the impending impeachment of the nation’s president Dilma Rousseff. It has been labeled a coup by some, while others are stating it’s a reaction to President Rousseff’s illegal actions.

This “soft coup” as termed by The Washington Post isn’t the only political dissonance to occur in the history of Brazil. Rousseff herself was tortured and jailed during a 1964 coup that overthrew the Brazilian Labour Party for an authoritarian military regime. The government suspended the political rights of many Brazilians and made many disappear. One victim of this regime was the son of a determined fashion designer who used her designs as a form of protest towards the silencing government.

Zuzu Angel, Fashion Designer and Rebel

Fashion designer Zuzu Angel has built a legacy as a Brazilian citizen who used fashion as a way to rebel against the government. It all began after the mysterious disappearance, and later discovered death, of her son Stuart Angel. Frustrated at the lack of information that was given to her by the government, Angel decided to voice the injustice by redesigning her 1972 fashion collection with morbid images.

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Image via © Acervo Instituto Zuzu Angel

She presented her clothing with “embroidered cages over the birds, depicted cannon balls shooting angels and sewed on scrawny looking children with black doves.” Angel’s transition from the positive and light hearted images to the morbid was a direct comment on the Brazilian government. “Four months ago, when I began to think about [the show], I was inspired by my country’s colourful flowers and the beautiful birds,” Angel explained. “But, then, suddenly this nightmare entered my life and the flowers lost their colour and the birds went crazy and I produced a collection with a political theme.” Angel appropriately titled the collection, “International Dateline.”

After the show, Angel was praised by the Brazilian public for her rebellious statement. This was a time where speaking out against the government was dangerous and as seen with her own son, deadly. She continued to speak out against the government until her untimely death. In 1976, Angel was killed in a car accident that is believed by many to have been murdered.

The Fashion Career Of Zuzu

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Image via © Acervo Instituto Zuzu Angel

Aside from her rebellious fashion collection and her own mysterious death, Zuzu led a successful career in Brazilian fashion. She began her line with custom clothing, crediting the colorful Brazilian locale as her inspiration. She is noted for designing gowns for both Brazilian politician wives and American Hollywood stars, with Joan Crawford, Kim Novak, and Heloisa Lustosa as clients.

According to a website dedicated to the fashion designer, Angel began to develop a model of repeated dresses, which was one of the first introductions of pret-a-porter in the country. Angel also leant her craft to wedding gowns, but added her own personal touch. She would incorporate hand embroidery from Ceara, a region where Angel grew up, Brazilian jewels, and rendões dyed by hand with silk. Angel brought luxury to her designs, but with a heritage touch.

As her line developed, Angel was awarded Brazil’s “Woman of the Year” by the National Council of Women, while later, Bergdorf Goodman of New York picked up her line in 1974.

Collecting A Zuzu Original

As compared to the information about Stuart’s death and hers, there is not that much information about Angel’s fashion line. Collectors can find Angel’s work on vintage retail websites like Etsy.com, but it has become much rarer than her contemporaries.

If it’s too hard to find Zuzu Angel’s originals on the Internet, there have been a number of museum exhibitions and collections formed in her memory. The Itaú Cultural in São Paulo featured, “Occupation Zuzu: Mother of Brazilian Fashion” that was curated by art director Valdy Lopes Jn and Angel’s daughter Hildegard Angel, who founded the Instituto Zuzu Angel. The exhibit displayed Angel’s signature colorful dresses and prints, while telling her story through both a fashion and political lense.

In recent times, Brazilian fashion has been associated with models who have “bombshell” hair, but there’s a rebellious side too. And it’s all thanks to Zuzu Angel.

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