The Brazilian-born designer crafts garments that could double as art, giving prominence to the colors and textures of his culture
The fashion industry, like most others, has had many hurdles thrown its way over the past year-plus. But it has proven to be resilient, and is rapidly evolving—with exciting talent emerging all over the globe. Document is shining a light on the next generation of designers bringing rich complexity and undeniable imagination to the table, proving nothing is off limits.
Brazilian-born, Paris-based designer Marco Ribeiro is creating playful wearable art that exudes a sense of poeticism. Over a cup of tea in his studio, he chats about expressing the importance of identity through colors, shapes, and textures.
Brigitte Kovats: What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
Marco Ribeiro: It depends a lot on how I feel. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, some days can be super productive, and other days I am totally paralyzed. I think that’s why, in my designs, I am always looking for joy and want to be playful. I try to run and do yoga or meditation every day, as that always helps me focus.
A lot of the time, I end up working late at night, once the emails stop and I can be alone to create. I often work with music, and the process becomes quite physical. I’m drawing or sewing in-between dancing. Most days, it starts with tea, porridge, and a call with my boyfriend or family.
Brigitte: Shape, form, and size play important roles in your work. How do you distinguish between creating wearable pieces and art pieces?
Marco: I am very inspired by Hélio Oiticica; in particular, his performance ‘The Parangolés.’ Oiticica says, ‘Objects only come truly alive through the movements of the people who wear them.’ Wearability is integral to my work, but not in such a conventional way. I understand that you won’t be going shopping wearing one of my circle looks. But I hope that people see them and see the fun and joy in them, and want to wear them as an experience.
Of course, fashion is a business, so I am exploring ways to translate my work into more conventional wearability. But at the moment the point is that they aren’t something conventional.
I also believe that all forms of creativity intersect and I don’t really see art and fashion as separate entities. I like the idea that my clothes exist beyond the body or wardrobe, and can be in your house as a piece of art on the wall. I think it’s a fun concept that one day my circle look can be wall art and the next day you’re wearing it to a party.
Brigitte: What have you learnt from working in the fashion industry and what would you tell your younger self?
Marco: What I learned in fashion was to trust my instincts and authenticity, not try to be someone I’m not. I would say to the younger Marco, ‘Keep dreaming, keep trusting in yourself, don’t forget where you come from, and always bring your unique point of view to whatever you are doing.’
“I want to make the naked form one of self-expression, not sexualization. I want my clothes to help whoever is wearing them to show their skin for their own sake, as a statement of: ‘This is me.’”
Brigitte: As humans we have a psychological connection to color and texture, and these are important elements to creating a garment. How do color and texture inform your making?
Marco: For me, each collection is truly like poetry—poetry that is not only made exclusively of words but also of colors, texture, and silhouettes, composed and organized in the form of garments that make up a look.
Color is how I translate the memories of my childhood and home in Brazil into the collections. I want to be bright, colorful, and present a new point of view through unusual color combinations: the brighter colors of nature against the earth and sand; or the strong, graphic colors of architecture and man-made creations. For me, color is just as sensory as smell or touch, even though it’s a bit less tangible.
In reality, colors are complex and rich. A leaf isn’t just green, it’s many greens. Texture, in clothing, helps me explore that complexity. It adds dimension to the pieces and makes them more alive. It’s all about feeling, for me. When you’re wearing one of my pieces, I want it to inspire you to express yourself in a new way. If something is tactile, you want to stroke or explore it more. Texture almost challenges you to engage on a deeper level.
Brigitte: As a young designer entering the fashion industry with a namesake label, what challenges and rewards have you encountered on your journey?
Marco: As with all new businesses, making them financially viable is a big challenge. The industry is finding new ways to reward and invest, but is still building on the existing structure. Especially if you’re not coming from privilege, or able to go to a prestigious fashion school, it means having to find ways to create without financial support and trying to create opportunities from scratch.
The biggest reward is having independence. I am able to express myself in my own authentic way and have a voice. I wasn’t given the opportunity to work in an existing fashion house, which is why I set up my own brand. Now that people are starting to respond to my work, I feel really grateful and thankful. It’s very humbling when people give me their time and energy to create my work.
Brigitte: What or who are your main influences in your practice that have impacted the way you envision the female form?
Marco: All the women in my family, the ones I grew up around, and the women who surround me in my everyday life. In a way, it was a privilege for me to grow up in a family where feminine presence and energy dominated. It made me see the female body from another perspective and without prejudice.
“In a way, it was a privilege for me to grow up in a family where feminine presence and energy dominated. It made me see the female body from another perspective and without prejudice.”
Often the naked body, especially the female body, is reduced to a sexual object for the satisfaction of others. I want to say that your own body is powerful and beautiful. It’s for you to own, not others. I want to make the naked form one of self-expression, not sexualization. I want my clothes to help whoever is wearing them to show their skin for their own sake, as a statement of: ‘This is me.’
Brigitte: Circles and geometry are a recurring element within your designs. What brought on this interest and how do you decipher which part of the body to expose?
Marco: I am going to quote the Bauhaus theory on geometry, where they saw simple geometric forms as the essence of natural, organic shapes: It started with the circle for me. It is a symbol of union. A message of equality. Without an obvious start or end the circle is a continuous line. I then started to explore other simple shapes like the triangle or rectangle. I was in Brazil visiting my family, and went to an exhibition where I saw a video of these three shapes; circle, triangle, and rectangle, moving and forming the Brazilian flag, and I found that very inspiring. The ‘Brazil dress’ was what I ended up creating. I deconstructed the Brazilian flag into the three primary shapes; rectangle, diamond, circle, and created cut-outs across the dress. Brazil is often fetishized and seen as super erotic, but this dress is very elegant. It’s a deconstruction of the preconceptions everyone has of Brazil, reconsidering nudity through the shapes of the flag and presenting it as something new.
Set Design Céline Corbineau.