Ahead of her RCA degree show, the Brazilian designer tells Document how she found beauty in the little rolls women are taught to hate.
Brazilian designer Karoline Vitto, a Central Saint Martins graduate, wants to change the way women feel and reveal in their clothing. Using elastics and structured elements, Vitto’s pieces contour the body into unconventional silhouettes, accentuating the curves, folds, and rolls many designers attempt to obscure with their garments. Her design practice is heavily informed by her own experience of the political and social pressures facing women and their bodies—from the often unattainable beauty standards her home country and the rise of right-wing political movements infringing on women’s autonomy over their bodies.
Ahead of her first show in June, Document caught up with the designer to discuss the origins of her design process, the differences she’s observed between Brazilian and British culture, and her evolving relationship with her own body.
Sam Weir—How did you start this concept of creating silhouettes and shapes using the body rather than fabric?
Karoline Vitto—I am doing a masters at the Royal College of Art. This is my final collection and the first step in launching my brand. It came from a very personal place of looking at myself in the mirror and not really liking what I saw at first. I’m Brazilian, and back home we have very very strict beauty standards, and beauty—in terms of the body—is such a large topic. After I moved to the UK, I started to deconstruct those ideals, in a way. It began as a process of rediscovering myself and finding these parts of my body that once I didn’t really enjoy but now I think are real beauty.
I did a series of photographs [with] this waist-cincher that I bought in Brazil. The whole idea was to use it in ways that wouldn’t necessarily create a waist but that would make my flesh pop in other areas. Then it kind of went from there. That is when I realized what I was doing with the waist-cincher was basically framing the flesh. I would design the garments where I wanted my flesh to pop. I started to experiment with materials on myself and friends. I had to build my own mannequin to work with because the traditional dress making form is quite small and tight. [The series] is either me standing in front of the mirror with a bunch of elastics or materials and wrapping myself, basically, or doing that to friends. I will use one piece, see how it works, rip it apart, and then try again. It is super organic.
Sam—Most designers are usually hiding [the body] with clothes where as you are really exposing it. I know you model a lot of your designs, is that ever intimidating to you?
Karoline—I decided to start wearing them as the “test wearer” because I wanted to feel how people would feel in the garments. Being that I work with elastics and they press into the body, my first concern was whether or not [the garments] would be comfortable. In terms of self image, in the beginning I didn’t mind the photographs. I think the process of exposing myself in that way really helped me to appreciate those areas of my body more. It is really deconstructing your own beliefs or how you once were taught to see beauty. When you post it on Instagram, most people see it as art, but I actually wear these pieces. It was a bit scary at first, but it really helped to hear my friends telling me, ‘Oh, I never thought I would be comfortable enough to show my little rolls, but now that you do I wouldn’t mind.’ That was the best part of it—breaking down this barrier with my friends.
Sam—In terms of preparation for your first show in June, can you tell me about that process of marketing and branding your first collection?
Karoline—It is something I am starting to define better now. It all started with my Instagram, really. I wanted that to be my professional page and act as my portfolio. I started getting messages from people, and stylists wanted to use the pieces for stories. I saw the interest getting bigger and bigger and thought, ‘Maybe this could be something.’ When you start your own brand there are really so many questions to ask. How do you define your customer? How do you define how you are going to be seen? It is an ongoing process.
Sam—Can you walk me through the beauty standards that you grew up around in Brazil?
Karoline—Brazil is one of the leaders in plastic surgery and cosmetics, and that on its own says a lot. You grow up seeing all these women with implants, so you start to look at yourself and think, ‘Oh my god, I don’t look like that.’ That creates extra pressure. It is rare to see women in magazines or on TV that don’t have anything altered. I am not saying any of these things are wrong, but I don’t think it should be the standard of what we look like. For so long we had this culture of the gym, a toned body, diet, and plastic surgery. Not only celebrities but regular girls would do it. Compared to the UK, it’s cheaper to get the procedures as well. [But] in recent years we [have] had a feminist movement growing very strongly. Now we have this opposing force saying, ‘I own my body and can do whatever we want.’
Sam—I think it is quite interesting how you are taking quite the opposite view of what you grew up with.
Karoline—With the whole political situation that is happening in Brazil right now, we have an extremely right-wing government. They have policies in regards to regulation of women—for example, abortion is illegal in Brazil, and not only that, but gender roles are so strict. When I moved to the UK, [I] saw first-hand the huge gap [between the two cultures]. Because of that, in Brazil, the feminist movement is much more visible. It is interesting to compare.
Sam—You are doing lectures back in Brazil as well, yes?
Karoline—The first time I got back to Brazil after being in the UK I started to do some lectures. I did my BA back in Brazil and the way they teach fashion there is very different then here. In the UK you have all these categories, while in Brazil you learn a little bit of everything, but [there’s] not such a strong focus on design and the creative process. I thought that there was a lot being done in the UK that could be done in Brazil, and people didn’t know about it yet. I did a series of creative process-related short courses, then I got invited to give a lecture at a Brazilian university. I really enjoyed being able to pass along a little bit that I learned in the UK.
Hair Roxane Attard. Make Up Ksenia Galyna. Model Charlotte Robinson at Milk.