Many Philadelphians are familiar with Brazilian music and dance - samba, anyone? - and this weekend they'll also get a taste of Brazilian fashion.
At Saturday's Citibank Summer Solstice 2009 celebration at the Kimmel Center, fashion designer Marcia Ganem will show creations that mix the traditions of her state - Bahia, in northeast Brazil - with elements of jewelry and music. One of the pieces she plans to show has 7,200 carats of citrine, Ganem says.
"I also have been studying the patterns used in percussion instruments like the xequere [a dried gourd covered with a net of woven beads], and applied them to my creations," says Ganem, who works in Salvador, Bahia's capital.
The mash-up of clothes, jewelry, and music will be the core of her show at the Summer Solstice. The presentation will start with live Brazilian percussion music to create the atmosphere reflected in Ganem's collections, which she also has shown in Europe and the Middle East, as well as in Brazil.
"She has a really unique line, and we think she should be seen here in the United States," said Thomas Warner, the Kimmel Center's vice president of programming.
The Summer Solstice festival, which celebrates the longest day of the year, begins at 3 p.m. and ends at dawn and will feature various bands, dancers, outdoor activities for kids and even a "Yappy Hour" with animal lovers. Ganem's show begins at 7:30 p.m.
After the runway presentation, Ganem and Brazilian fashion researcher Suzy Okamoto will host a panel discussion of how Ganem's work goes beyond the catwalk. In her creations, she uses traditional techniques as a basis to make contemporary outfits. Okamoto also notes that Ganem's collection is not necessarily the Carnaval-and-samba stereotype many people associate with Brazil.
"Even some of the lace techniques are not Brazilian. By showing that, we want to show how multiethnic our country is," says Okamoto, who teaches fashion and art in Sao Paulo.
One of the reasons the Kimmel Center chose Ganem to be the fashion feature is her innovative production techniques. She has partnerships with two community cooperatives in Bahia, one of which comprises 120 women lacemakers in Saubara, a tiny town on the Bahia shore. Ganem also works with the Bordadeiras da 25 de Julho in Salvador, an association of 80 embroiderers and lacemakers who produce clothes for twentysomethings.
In both partnerships, Ganem combines the traditional handcrafted techniques with unique materials like polyamide fibers - the same kind of material the auto industry uses to make seat belts.
Ganem's production techniques also aim to improve conditions for garment workers, who sometimes can be exploited in the fashion industry.
"The innovation in production is a trend we want to boost. The point is to make the work relations fairer and, by using recycled materials, to make all of the production chain more sustainable," says Okamoto.
Ganem's arrival in Philadelphia is part of 2009 BahiaWeek, another chapter in a more than 20-year relationship between Philadelphia and Salvador, which started in 1982.
That's when Salvador's then-Mayor Manuel Castro visited former Philadelphia Mayor William J. Green and the two signed a cooperation agreement that resulted in the first BahiaWeek two years later. The event included seminars on doing business in the respective cities and an exhibition of Bahian culture at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. This week, another group of Salvador officials, led by Leonel Leal Neto, is coming to Philadelphia to discuss education and cultural issues, as well as to enhance commercial relations.
Even before Ganem was invited to show her collection, the Philadelphia-Salvador connection was influencing her work. In 1992, one of the representatives from Salvador invited to that year's Afro-Americas Festival in Philadelphia was lacemaker Maria Carmen do Amorim. Inspired by the area's projects to preserve African American culture and arts, she said she would open a school in Bahia to keep lacemaking alive. She did it, and created the Saubara cooperative that now works with Ganem.