SAO PAULO – Prominent avant-garde fashion designer Junko Koshino took part behind the scenes in this year’s Sao Paulo Carnival as a designer of the costumes for the Barroca Zona Sul samba school, which took center stage early Tuesday.
The Osaka-born stylist, world famous for designing costumes for operas and uniforms for sports teams and corporations, is usually more at ease in the upscale fashion circles of Paris, Beijing or New York.
But there she was on the night of Feb. 6, hobnobbing with the humble denizens of Jabaquara, a working-class Sao Paulo district.
After a warm welcome from school members and the local Japanese community, she got down to business and joined in the last rehearsal before Barroca stepped into the Sambodrome, Sao Paulo’s samba parade ground.
Speaking through an interpreter, Koshino, 73, explained why she came to help: “I chose to help Barroca because it was the first samba school which introduced a Japanese wing (a component of the performance) in Brazil. It’s a way to say thank you, to give back.”
During the parade, the samba schools are judged in several categories — including theme, costumes and overall organization — during their 45-minute parade through the Sambodrome.
Created in 1974 and officially known as Faculdade do Samba, Barroca this year focused its carnival theme on the history of Jabaquara, an ethnically diverse district that includes Jardim Oriental, a community that is home to many Japanese.
Barroca spokeswoman Rosa Maria Gomes de Oliveira explained that the aim was to celebrate the area’s various ethnic communities, including African-Brazilians, Spaniards, Germans and Japanese.
“I am responsible for supervising the Jardim Oriental wing of the (samba) school, which will feature a colorful fantasy allegory representing contemporary Japan, the Japan of the future,” Koshino said.
The wing featured 90 members dressed in white and black kimono-style costumes. Other members paraded in pink and green outfits with folding lanterns of matching colors.
De Oliveira said Koshino had long wanted to do a documentary on the Brazilian carnival.
“But she did not want to focus on an elite carnival, a carnival with lots of sponsors. She wanted a carnival rooted in a real community,” she said, adding that Koshino came to Brazil in November, discovered the school and began working on a documentary.
At the rehearsal held in a community center tucked away under an expressway, Koshino led members in an elaborate dance carrying pink and green folding lanterns similar to those used in Japan on festive occasions.
A Japanese TV crew was present to shoot a documentary about Koshino and Barroca.
Although she thought her charges were not “very well coordinated,” she quickly added that she had no doubt that they would put on a “solid performance.”
Barroca is not among the top 14 samba schools that paraded their lavishly decorated floats and beauty queens at the 30,000-seat Sambodrome Friday and Saturday.
“We are not a rich school and only survive thanks to donations, members’ contributions and help from the community,” said de Oliveira.
Koshino said she developed a strong bond with the Barroca school and with the local Japanese community.