By Mira Postolache
Brazilian-born, Paris-based designer Marco Ribeiro is creating playful wearable art that exudes a sense of poeticism. He reinterprets French artisanal garment making techniques through a South American sensibility, embracing bright colours, a love of movement, and an uninhibitedly playful energy.
MARCO presents an outlook that celebrates diversity, union and most of all joy, with a mission to empower people to express themselves. In the designer’s most recent collection, exaggerated volumes add a new dimension to once familiar garments, while strips of fabric offcuts are elevated into elegant, sculptural dresses suspended mid-air. The circle, a motif applied theatrically throughout, has become somewhat of a signature of Ribeiro’s, manifesting in everything from bold embellishments to graphic prop-like forms.
Empowering the importance of identity through colors, shapes, and textures, we had an exclusive interview with Marco Ribeiro:
Hi Marco, welcome to VANITY TEEN, being a Brazil-born based in Paris, share with us a few highlights about your background as a child and how this influenced your career?
Growing up my parents had a small atelier at home, supplying small local stores in my hometown. Just being around that creativity rubbed off on me and it just felt natural to do it myself. My father also used to make his Saturday ‘night out’ outfits during the week.
I love making something from nothing, the unlimited possibility of imagination, and the power of expressing your own voice.
You have such a powerful experience as you worked with so many in the fashion industry. When did you decide that it was time to follow your own path? How important is the educational background for a creative in the fashion industry?
I studied 2 years of fashion design in Buenos Aires (at the age of 14 years old I decided to move to Argentina with my mother a few years later after my parents divorced), but I did not finish my degree. From the moment I left formal education, I had the desire to express myself and explore my own path. I consider myself a self-taught person, I started my first project at that time too, a brand of handmade and hand-painted bags.
One way or another I always knew that I had something to express, a unique and distinctive point of view that I wanted to explore. It wasn’t until I arrived in Paris and started MARCO that I looked back and realized it was something I always wanted to do. It was totally organic and it continues to be. It is all very instinctive.
How would you describe your creative process as a visual identity? How has your work developed over time? What significant discoveries have you made?
My work is an exploration of shapes, color, and the female form to celebrate nudity as a form of self-expression, not sexualization. My visual identity is Graphic. Bold. Colorful. Fun. Sculptural. Playful.
Thus developing a more mature and solid path while maintaining its essence and values due to the curiosity of experiencing the unknown and leaving a comfort zone. I learned in fashion to trust my instincts and authenticity, not try to be someone I’m not.
Tell us more about your projects and collaborations related to activism. How important is freedom of expression today and how fashion can play a role in it?
Fashion has a huge influence on the society in which we live, and so it is very necessary that fashion evolves over time as per the zeitgeist. Fashion can raise awareness and talk about social issues giving the possibility and opportunity for the amplification of all these minimized voices. In some way, it was a privilege for me to grow up in a family where feminine presence and energy predominated. Somehow it made me see the female body from another perspective and without prejudice.
I feel so often the naked body, especially the female body is reduced to a sexual object for the satisfaction of others. And I want to say that your own body is powerful and beautiful and showing that is the ultimate self-expression. It’s for you to own, not others. And make the naked form an act of self-expression, not sexualization. I want my clothes to help whoever is wearing them feel empowered to show their skin for their own sake. Not to be sexual but just as a statement of: “this is me”.
For me it’s very important to champion equity and celebrate diversity and representation in and through fashion. I don’t try to be specifically political but I care very much about political equity and the circle for me represents unity and democracy which is why it’s in all my collections. With no start or end, being a continuous line it’s a metaphor for how connected we all are, humans, animals, and nature. The joy that can be found in unity is something I try to express in my work. I want my designs to reflect this and present a new vision of how the world could be. A vision of a joyful and positive world where everyone is free to express themselves. I want to be that designer in contemporary fashion and inspire joy.
How do you approach the inspirational process when it comes to creating garments with a voice like yours?
My creative process is very intimate and personal, it depends a lot on how I feel at the moment and whatever mood I want to convey in the collection. I am a very passionate and sensitive person.
I love the idea of doing research around unusual techniques that have been forgotten over time and mixed with more current techniques, or other artistic disciplines to reach a unique and extraordinary result. I have seen some of my work as wearable sculptures since the beginning. Being a designer is like being an architect or sculptor but instead of concrete, clay, or stone our materials are fabric and the human body. We have to develop a design that is functional for the human being, something to wrap the body. But at the same time, I wanted my clothes to be seen as a work of art by itself and create some visual disruption. So that tension of whether some of my pieces are clothes or sculptures is something I like to play with.
The best things are usually created when people follow their own vision rather than just pursue success or money for its own sake. How challenging is the business part for you as a designer and founder of your own label?
As with all new businesses, making them financially viable is a big challenge. The industry is finding new ways to reward and invest in new talent, yet it’s still pretty much based on the existing structure. So it means having to find ways to create without financial support and trying to create opportunities from scratch.
Even though it’s difficult, the biggest reward is having that independence. Being 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 space to create my work.
Can you define the term “long-lasting” in fashion? How long should last a garment?
I believe that all forms of creativity intersect and I don’t really see art and fashion as separate entities. I quite like the idea too that my clothes exist beyond the body or wardrobe and can be in your house as a piece of art, on the wall or something. I think it’s a fun concept that one day my circle can be wall art and the next day you’re wearing it to a party.
How do you face challenges in such a complex industry and how do you approach potential customers/stores?
Establishing a brand as a young creator already has its challenges and even more during and post pandemic crisis. But it gave me time to focus on communication, positioning the project, and designing and developing products.
As the wholesale and retail sector struggles, I anticipate I need to be independent and establish my own revenue stream which is why I just launched my own e-commerce store.
How do you walk the line between being unique and having commercial appeal?
I am still trying to build this line so that I can walk on it later, but I have been exploring ways to translate my work into more conventional wearability without losing the identity of the concept that I have been working on. But soon you’re gonna start to see the results of this research being launched. Stay tuned!
You’re both the creative and the business head of your company. How do you balance your time between the two?
At first, it was a bit difficult for me to find the balance but as time went by I found a routine that I felt comfortable with, which is dealing with emails and the business side in the morning and the rest of the afternoon for the creative part of the project and more at the end of the day it can have some meetings depending on the day. But it is also very important to know how to delegate certain activities (since there are times when one feels like a superhero but in the end, we are only human beings and that can greatly affect your physical and mental health).
Finding a balance between your personal life and work is really important for me, as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression some days can be super productive and other days 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.
How should a person feel about wearing your artwork?
I am super inspired by Hélio Oiticica, in particular, his performance ‘The Parangolés’; “Objects only come truly alive through the movements of the people who wear them”. I want my clothes to be more than just worn. I want people to play with them and find new ways to interact with them and engage with them. In a way that is a performance. It’s not necessarily on a stage, captured in a photograph or video, it might just be at home alone for yourself or in the context of their everyday life.
Name a few creatives that you work with, are there others you would like to collaborate with?
There are so many creatives that I admire! But I think it would be a dream one day to have the chance to work with Harley weir, Jean-Paul Goud, and Erwin Wurm.
A letter to your future self. What would you write?
I would say to the future Marco, thank you for being so persistent and for believing in your potential, keep trusting yourself, and don’t forget where you come from. Be thankful for what you have and how far you’ve come. Always remember to have fun and always bring your unique point of view to whatever you are doing. I kept dreaming that there is much more!
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