Favela Reclaims for All Brazilians Flag Colors Hijacked by Former President Bolsonaro and His Followers

Brazil’s flag served as an emblem of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right populist politics. Now designers like Abacaxi are reclaiming it for all Brazilians and celebrating the style of the favelas at the same time.

“Who said that the flag doesn’t belong to us?” Abacaxi wrote in one of his Instagram posts. The photo shows models sporting the fashion designer’s Brazilian collection: Clad in flag-inspired yellow and green shirts, skirts and bikinis, they wave the Brazilian flag.

The Rio de Janeiro-born designer released the clothing line in the middle of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, between 2019 and 2023. At the time, the Brazilian flag was seen as a political symbol of the populist right-wing politician and his followers.

“He ripped the flag away from us,” Abacaxi told reporters in Rio. “The Brazilian aesthetic disappeared from the favelas, Brazil’s dense urban neighborhoods, when Bolsonaro became president.”

This is precisely what he is trying to change with his fashion label Piña. Abacaxi’s goal is nothing less than to reclaim the meaning of the Brazilian flag and its colors as a symbol of national identity.

In 2002, when Ronaldo led the Brazilian men’s national football team to its fifth world championship, Brazilian flags could be seen all over the country, decorating houses, cars and stores. Kids wore Brazil jerseys and dreamed of becoming football stars. The jersey of the Brazilian team became a symbol of national pride.

That is, until Bolsonaro arrived on the scene and instrumentalized the flag for his purposes. Now, Abacaxi wants to take the “Brazil look” back to its origins: to the favelas of Rio.

Brazilcore: A yellow-and-green renaissance

In early May, when Madonna held a historically-large free concert in Rio de Janeiro dressed in Brazilian colors, and kissed a transgender woman onstage, she clearly demonstrated that the Brazilian flag belongs to all Brazilians — and not just ex-President Bolsonaro’s conservative milieu.

Inspired by Madonna, the São Paulo Trans Pride March, which takes place on May 31, has described the phenomenon as a “renaissance” of the national colors and even called on all participants to sport the flag during the parade.

A person wearing a Brazil T-shirt on the streets of Brazil is no longer automatically assumed to be politically right-wing. But this is not just due to Madonna, or the fact that Bolsonaro is no longer president.

Bye-bye Bolsonaro, hello Hailey

Well before Madonna, other stars, including international ones like model Hailey Bieber, musician Lady Gaga and model-actress Emily Ratajkowski, were posing in Brazilian tees, helping to spread the fashion trend known outside Brazil as “Brazilcore.”

After Bieber posed in a Brazilian shirt in 2022, videos tagged with #Brazilcore began to circulate on TikTok. In them, influencers explained how they styled their Brazilian shirt.

It was only a matter of time before the French edition of the fashion magazine Vogue described Brazilcore as the “flagship trend” of summer 2023.

Suddenly, a look that had long been associated with lower socio-economic classes had become “respectable” — the look of precisely those individuals who in the 2000s saw the dream of a soccer career as a way out of poverty.

The favela aesthetic

Abacaxi sees this look as art. The 24-year-old is proud of his identity and heritage. He is a “cria” — a word of self-identification used by individuals born and raised in favelas.

In Abacaxi’s case it’s Vila Kennedy, an urban suburb of Rio de Janeiro known to the city’s elite only through headlines. “From VK in the world,” reads a line on his Instagram profile.

Abacaxi, which means “pineapple” in Portuguese, is actually the designer’s nickname. A friend called him that once after he ate so much pineapple during a spell of lovesickness that he made himself actually sick. The name stuck, and he later decided to call his fashion label “Piña,” which is the Spanish word for pineapple.

Abacaxi was interested in fashion as a schoolchild. During class, he would draw clothing while trying not to attract attention. “Secretly, so that I wouldn’t be bullied. I was always a very feminine kid, I was always queer,” he said.

Dress code: Cool

At 15, Abacaxi began to attend what are known as funk parties in Rio’s suburbs. These are parties where “baile funk” is played — a Brazilian music genre that mixes hip hop and electronic beats and which originated in Rio’s favelas. “That was the moment when I fell in love with fashion,” he recalled.

“Everyone at the parties was so well dressed that I wanted to look good too. So I started creating my own looks,” he explained. He sold his outfits in a second-hand shop in a favela. The store’s name: “Abacaxi’s Shop.”

His first collection grew out of these party outfits. As demand increased, his cousin began to help him with the sewing. At 18, Abacaxi started working as a fashion designer for a Brazilian label. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he launched his own brand: “Abacaxi’s Shop” had become Piña.

Since then, Abacaxi’s ambitions have grown beyond “just” wanting to reclaim the flag: He wants to create respect for the favela aesthetic. “Many people find my looks vulgar,” he said. “All the more reason why I want people to understand that this aesthetic from the favelas is art. I see what’s going on here as the highest form of art.”

Abacaxi would like to be able to present his designs on runaways one day. He would like to see them on Brazilian models, on crias of all shapes, sizes and genders — crias just like himself.

And every day, Abacaxi’s dream is becoming a little more of a reality. Today, Brazilian stars like singer Anitta, choreographer Arielle Macedo and rapper MC Soffia wear his outfits. Abacaxi can now live from his work.

For him, Brazilcore is far more than a fashion trend: “For me, Brazilcore represents the joy and bravery behind showing who we are and where we come from.”

DW

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