Each season our designers look to a wide range of sources to inspire the new collection- from architectural movements and musical genres to the diverse districts of Rio. For SS21, however, we bring you Azulejo (or Tile, in Portuguese), inspired by the works of Carioca artist Athos Bulcão.
A shy character little known outside of his native country, Bulcão’s works occupy a unique presence within Brazilian public life, his works decorating hospitals and school, embassies and auditoriums alike.
Initially destined for a career in medicine, Bulcão abandoned this plan in favour for a move to Paris to train as a painter and sculptor. Initially working in commercial design on book jackets and album covers, in the mid fifties Bulcão founded two relationships that would ultimately shape his career. Friendships with city planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer would transform into lifelong collaborations as the pair called on Bulcão to assist in a major transformative project : building Brasilia, the nation’s new capital city, from the ground up.
The new city represented a shining example of tropical modernism, subversive in its rejection of former colonial norms and the stark minimalism taking hold in other countries in favour of an embrace of the natural beauty and resources unique to those nations found south of the equator. Characterised ultimately by the famous, sweeping curves of Niemeyer’s architectural prowess, Brasilia is also of note for the bright and brilliant splashes of life added at the hands of Bulcão. Dotted around the city, these bold tile designs serve to highlight and disrupt the expansive shapes accordingly, communicating a uniquely Brazilian light-heartedness of spirit that neatly complemented Niemeyer’s sophisticated vision of the emerging Latin American architectural language.
Bulcão’s artworks, at once surprising and harmonious, in playfully abstract and organic shapes, decorate concrete stretches and government buildings through the city of Brasilia, lending these spaces an often forgotten light and liveliness. The inclusion of his designs within this new urban landscape speak to a belief that great art should not be rarefied but rather for public consumption, a democratising approach that Bulcão extended further into his design process, routinely leaving his tiles at building sites to be installed without plans for arrangement, preferring instead to allow the workers who installed them a degree of artistic license in “working out” how best to place them.
This season, our design team have worked to emulate that characteristically Carioca playfulness of spirit for which Bulcão has become known, as well as finding inspiration in his tasteful modernist eye. Our signature prints are re-arranged as if imagined by Bulcão himself, and new patterns seek to replicate the graphic shapes found in the murals scattered throughout Brazil’s modernist metropolis, in warm shades mimicking the boldness of the tropics. The collection is our interpretation of Brazil’s style aesthetic after dark : nonchalant rather than overtly formal, and fun-loving yet refined, honouring the archetypal Carioca spirit of one of Brazil’s lesser known design heroes.