The man behind the distinctive spectacles logo kick-started his career with a daring show at São Paulo Fashion Week in 1996 that alerted the fashion world to his daring use of colour and irreverent sense of fun. Today, Ronaldo Fraga is one of the most celebrated names in Brazilian fashion. But it’s with a group of women artisans in a rural community in Pernambuco that he finds detail and inspiration, he tells us, rather on the ritzy São Paulo streets.
‘What really excites me in Brazil is handmade,’ says the Belo Horizonte-born designer, who studied in New York and London before launching his career in São Paulo. ‘I think all designers have a duty to decrease the gap between the mind who creates and draws the clothes and the person who does the handicraft work. Both end up winning and learning.’
As part of the government's rural development project, Talentos do Brasil (‘Talents of Brazil’), he began working with wool in the south, with fish leather in the Pantanal, and with embroidery in the North-East. But it was for his recent collection based on the works of great Brazilian poet Mario de Andrade that he found the perfect collaborators: the women’s handcraft group Gatas Bordadeiras de Passira in Pernambuco’s dusty interior.
‘Sometimes we got positive results and sometimes not so positive, but overall the results were great,’ says Fraga, ‘and I’ve broken this huge barrier between designers and artisans.’ He encourages his team of women workers to instill their culture into the creations they produce for him.
‘It may be just a small ornament or accessory in the hair, or the entire dress and outfit made with handicraft work, but there’s always something in there,’ he says. ‘They can see in their work the history of their families and understand that this is also a way of making money through storytelling.’
Fraga loves to recount the legend of how lace arrived in Brazil from Renaissance Florence: a Romeo and Juliet-style saga, with the ‘Juliet’ in the tale living out her days isolated in a convent in Olinda making lace, a skill she then passed on to her Brazilian maid. Stories like this feed into his creations.
‘Sometimes people don’t understand why a dress is so bloody expensive, but what they do need to get is the aggregated value that a piece has. The Renaissance lace dress takes two months to make,’ he says. ‘That’s fashion. Personality, identity, story.’