What you are seeing right now on TV is the grand finale of a wild Brazilian carnival whose year actually already started last July. Now, since every of these glitzy costumes is handmade with utter care for months, PingMag simply can’t spare you our fancy favourites for this year. Even global warming has made its way as theme in the giant Sambadromes: Welcome Mr. Biodiesel!
Written by Aroldo Cardoso Jr.
Naked flesh? No way! A smiling Mr. Owl is rocking…
…with David Livingstone?! Both are from Unidos de Tijuca samba school.
The Carnival Cycle
Brazilian carnival runs on a calendar of its own. It starts around July – when the people in samba schools wear their costumes from the last parade and welcome the next one – and ends with the actual parade of the samba schools, in February. Right after that, carnival slowly starts to work itself back into pieces: The allegoric floats are disassembled; costumes are kept safe in the closet. All we see are the metal, wood, polystyrene and plaster stone remnants.
The name actually stems from Latin carne vale and means farewell to the flesh: Its roots are presumably in ancient Greek spring celebrations of god Dionysus, to be later adapted by the Romans into wild Saturnalia. Christianity modified it to a party occasion leading up Ash Wednesday, the last day before Lent. And fasting season with its forty days before Easter is a total no-go for all sorts of parties.
In Brazil, carnival has become an institution on the streets since the mid 19th century and it probably originated from the Portugese entrudo festivities before Lent where folks threw all sorts of stuff, such as mud, food, or water at each other. Sounds like fun (and reminds us a bit of the Indian Holi festival.) Today, carnival is widely held all over the country – with well-known celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Salvador, Recife, and also in close by Olinda. The ones you can see on TV actually happen in semi-closed spaces called the Sambódromos:
Based on projects by Oscar Niemeyer, the Sambadromes are the places to be for seeing most of the samba schools’ parades. And they are huge: The one in Rio de Janeiro is 700 meters long, Sao Paulo’s is 530 meters. However, that is certainly not the only place to celebrate: It’s done in the streets (specially in Recife, Olinda and Salvador!)
Always popular: Rosas de Ouro’s country themed costumes – Ms. China…
…and a quite pompous young Mr. France. Photos by Novaes
Right after carnival ends, the samba schools come up with a subject. This could be anything: Japanese immigrants (since Brazil is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration this year,) workers, global warming, hairstyles or something like ice-cream has been a topic for costumes. The subject is developed into a plot, which is the main idea for the parade. It is later written down as a small phrase, a slogan. Combined, both serve as a reference for the creation of sambas, costumes and the allegoric floats.
Since the costumes are all theme-based, defined by each school and developed by songwriters and visual artists, there needs to be someone orchestrating the whole, a producer: Regarding the visual side, the carnavalesco is the central figure. He or she comes up with a vision for the show and organises its creation. As a key figure, he often works both in the design of the pompous float and costumes and serves as the mediator. Of course, the Carnival enterprise involves an extensive range of people: sculptors, painters, fashion designers, architects, even a historian or two… Carnavalescos coordinate the work and are responsible for the team communication as well as for the relationship of the school with external sources.
Dancing “Corncob” can shake his several tails whereas…
…Mr. Wheat seems to be more of a solid nature. Both by Vila Isabel.
Rather than just good design, caring for the team is what defines a carnavalesco’s success: When a schools gets to the big avenue, everyone looks at their costumes. A decisive moment! If the crowds like them, the whole school instantly cheers up and a good parade is guaranteed.
During Carnival year, dozens of allegoric floats are made and thousands of costumes are sewed for the Sambadrome parades. Everything is handmade. The actual way a costume looks depends on several factors: the style of the samba school, the carnavalesco’s preferences, and the way a pre-made illustration is implemented on the spot collaboratively. Of course, it also depends on who is going to wear it. In the end, the costumes are the ticket to go in the middle of the crowd – nothing else is required and that’s usually why people wear them to get in.
A little bit of golden glitz – on a car! By school Vila Isabel.
Now, the process of the making is simple: A prototype is developed and sewn by the carnavalesco and his crew to be then presented to the chefes de ala, responsible for production and sales: He picks one for his or her group and shows it to the community at a special party around October. When said chefe de ala agrees to produce and sell a costume, each of those will be done in the exact way as the prototype. Some or parts are also outsourced to independent art studios. Meaning, even though each costume is sold to fifty, a hundred or more people, everyone looks identical.
And carnival fans have to pay for that: Most costumes are at around ¥37,000, or circa US$ 350, and we heard that some can get to as much as ¥534,000 (US$ 5,000!) But you can always make one by order. Then, it can be any price – we spotted one for more than ¥3,2 million (US$ 30,000.) Start saving then!
Oh my! Pricey! We hope we made you curious for more of these tasty costumes! For further reading, learn more about Rio de Janeiro’s schools and get yourself tuned into you own home made carnival action…