Ronaldo Fraga

His fashion shows have plot, style, drama, taken from his own life

by Cristina Ramalho Photo Iara Venanzi

That day, singer Elza Soares was more demanding than ever. She wanted to make a statement, and found a tight-fitting glass- bead dress, but she wanted more. As she rummaged through the studio of fashion designer Ronaldo Fraga, inBelo Horizonte, looking for something to jazz up her image, he had an idea. He pulled a suit off the rack, with a cloud print, and asked: “Elza, what about airport clothes?” She lit right up. “Ah, that’s what I wanted: I love airport clothes!” She merrily donned the suit and jokingly asked for a ticket, pretending to be waiting to board a plane.

That wasn’t the first, or the last, time that Ronaldo Fraga saw (and prodded) the inner self that blooms in each of us. He, himself, is theatrical, and retells this scene with Elza with gestures and words, as though he were on a stage. Ronaldo observes customers, friends, and relatives in detail. Then, he puts his love for storytelling into clothing that seems to vibrate with a life of its own. This is his style, not to be compared with any other fashion designer. His shows, which are getting larger audiences and bigger raves, come with a plot and characters – several have even moved the audience to tears.

That’s what happened in his debut at São Paulo Fashion Week, with his 2001 winter collection: Ruth and Solomon described the forbidden love between a Christian and an orthodox Jew. He set up a cloth Wailing Wall in the background, Biblically symbolic bread, Jewish music, bullet and blood marks on the shirts, harking back to the concentration camps – the spectators melted. For the next show (summer), journalist Hildegard Angel openly wept at the homage paid to her mother, fashion designer Zuzu Angel, murdered

by the dictatorship. Fraga used angels, clouds (that’s where the “airport suit” came from) and symbols of torture along the runway. Fashion people made good use of their handkerchiefs.

In Lamb of God, at the beginning of the year, the designer returned to the theme of suffering love. He created the character, Jesus da SilvaSantos, a prison convict who writes letters to his wife and arranges his cell for the Sunday visit. On the runway, there were diaphanous dresses for mermaid-like women, created by one who sees the world through prison bars, and, in real life, loves women who aren’t really that beautiful. Ronaldo got this idea on a visit to the Contagem prison, where he does volunteer work, teaching prisoners how to embroider clothing, so that they can earn a little money, cut time from their sentences and learn a profession. “One of the prisoners described his wife as beautiful, a goddess, and when I saw her, she didn’t meet anyone’s standard of beauty – chubby, neglected feet. I found that delightful – love bringing beauty, bringing poetry,” Ronaldo remembers.

His concern for prisoners, the political situation, intolerance, uncontrolled consumerism – (in Raw Meat, he used a machine, instead of models, and when the machine broke down, the women who did the ironing and sewing carried the clothing on the runway) comes surrounded with lyricism and lots of humor. Ronaldo is not the politically correct type. Every time he tells a story (and he always has a story to tell), he laughs heartily. In his debut, in 1996, at the former Phytoervas Fashion Show, he showed what he was here to do, with a show called I Love Chicken Hearts, about a hen who left the chicken coop and started another life. It was a profusion of color and joy.

“When young, I learned that tragedy and comedy change clothes in the same place,” says Ronaldo. His mother died when he was seven, and his father four years later – both on November 2, All Soul’s Day. The five children decided to stay together and face life without adults. “We didn’t have any money, but we had fun.” He has always liked to hear stories about other relatives in the family, like his uncle Agenor, who was an excellent artist (“I learned how to draw from him”), had tattoos, played music with his feet and said that Carmen Miranda had been his girlfriend. Or aunt Maria, who stuttered and was fascinated with wakes.

“Aunt Maria got all dressed up when someone died and went to the wake, even if she didn’t know the person.” Among those surrounding the casket, Aunt Maria wept, carried on and got boyfriends. “Today, although she’s old, she likes to go to the wakes of famous people and, since she stutters, it looks like she is truly moved. People feel sorry for her and give her the best place to sit at the wake.” Obviously, these relatives inspired a fashion show, called Family Album (96/97). It is the most theatrical of all of them, often compared to playwright Nelson Rodrigues. “With the family I have, I didn’t need Rodrigues for inspiration, but nobody would believe that,” he jokes.

If all of this looks just likeBrazil, that’s not the most important thing to Ronaldo. Even though he is the “official” designer for singer and friend Fernanda Takai (from the band Pato Fu) and designed the wardrobe for the most recent show by the Grupo Corpo, Ronaldo isn’t looking for that kind of work. He is a fan of the fashion designers of yesteryear: Denner and Zuzu Angel, and the modern Walter Rodrigues, today. Ronaldo Fraga is so Brazilian because he makes nostalgia his playground. HisBelo Horizontestudio is filled with old toys and collectibles and he knows the TV soaps of the ‘70s by heart. On the walls, his father’s school diploma, a copy of his grandfather’s employment registration, pictures. Everything is ready to bring out stories in each of us. “What I’m really after is something delicate,” he says.


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