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Brazilcore: How favela fashion became cool

Djamilia Prange de Oliveira
May 27, 2024

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.

A group of models wearing Brazilian-flag themed outfits stand on an elegant red-carpeted stairway in a marble hall
Brazilian designer Abacaxi uses the Brazilian flag and its colors in his outfitsImage: PIÑA/Abacaxi

"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 DW 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.

Three individuals in Brazilian-flag themed outfits stand together
Abacaxi (above, with two models) celebrates diversity and his favela origins with his clothing collectionImage: PIÑA

A Brazilian football fairytale 

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. 

Ronaldo holds up his finger and smiles happily (June 2002)
When Ronaldo led the national soccer team to World Cup victory in 2002, the Brazilian flag became a symbol of national pride Image: picture-alliance/dpa

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 Sao 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 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. 

Four individuals dance on a cement terrace against a backdrop of dense urban housing in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Abacaxi is proud of his origins in Rio's favelasImage: Silvia Izquierdo/AP Photo/picture alliance

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. 

The Brazilian designed Abacaxi speaks into a microphone while flanked by two women, all wearing yellow-and-green, flag-inspired outfits
Abacaxi's interest in fashion began as a schoolchild. He started working professionally as a designer in his late teensImage: PIÑA

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 designed for a Brazilian label. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he launched his own brand: "Abacaxi's Shop" had become Piña.

A woman with yellow braids and fancy eye makeup looks into the camera
For all Brazilians: Izabelly Bessimo (above) is a model for Abacaxi's Piña lineImage: PIÑA/Abacaxi

Brazilcore represents the joy 'to show who we are'

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."

This article was originally written in German.