Brazil, Travestis World Champion, Photography: Otavio Guarino, 2019
Campinas, SP, 1979
Vicenta Perrotta is an artist, designer and activist. Her work starts from the idea of textile transmutation to reinvent affective connections, bodies and forms of fashion production. In 2013, she founded the TRANSmoras studio, which organizes and trains trans and travestis with cutting and sewing workshops to generate income and autonomy. The project has already impacted thousands of people through its actions. The pieces can be purchased at: www.usevp.com
interview by Igor Furtado, published on 26/11/2020
Casa de Criadores 45 Backstage, Collages: Victor Reiz, 2019
How was your childhood and when did your interest in fashion appear?
It's that story that has been told for a long time and that is repetitive. My family did not accept me. My father was always an irresponsible absentee, who years later sold the house and left me and my mother on the streets, depending on family and friends. At school, I took vocational tests and never fit into any profession. For many it is a "safe" place, but for trans people this security doesn't exist, due to genocidal processes, of reproduced pacts that impose white and cisgender forms of being. There, I no longer corresponded to several of these norms and suffered the consequences. In the early 90s, when I was in third grade, they called me Cazuza. It was the time when he was dying of AIDS. It was also when Madonna launched the Blonde Ambition Tour, singing Express Yourself. I danced on a stage during breaks and the students were ridiculing me, they even stoned me. It was escaping that I started to become interested in fashion, with Jean Paul Gaultier's cone bra, with music videos and other musical references.
How were your first insertions in the fashion market?
I grew up, studying and developing my research in fashion. One of my first jobs was in a shopping mall, where I had contact with the business side, learned to dialogue with the public, set up shop windows. At that time I started to produce some accessories with seeds and research their origin. It was a process of exchanging with the environment and understanding how ancestry dealt with "consumption" in a totally different way, which has been erased over the years. It's about fair exchange, where time is essential; like having to wait for the seed to fall, because if you remove it before, it will rot. But a winter came when biojewels stopped being a trend and selling well. I had to look for new ways to produce, starting to explore ceramics, cardboard covered with fabric and embroidery. At the age of 27, I went to a rehabilitation clinic and there I took a course with Rodrigo Robson, an incredible jeweler who helped me build a collection. When I sold everything, I managed to start developing the first clothes, still with the help of a seamstress. But there was already a desire to sew myself, so I learned to use overlock and patchwork, reusing discarded pieces and creating patterns. After several trips to Brás, where I bought fabrics, I discovered that they threw away leftovers, so I would always pick up those remains. I started posting my work on Orkut and Flickr and selling it at a fair for new designers. Soon after, I started a partnership with a friend, Rubia. It was a social and political project that reflected on sustainability and conscious consumption. She introduced me to Beto Lago, owner of Mundo Mix Market, who invited me to be an exhibitor. That's when my career really started to expand.
Where Are The Travestis? Fashion Show, Photography: Marcelo Soubhia / Fotosite, 2018
Brazil, Travestis World Champion Fashion Show, Photography: Marcelo Soubhia / Fotosite, 2019
How did the meeting with the various collaborators of the brand take place?
At the time of Mundo Mix Market, I had done the first genderless street fashion show. It was an opportunity to better understand the bodies that I was dressing and that influenced my aesthetic construction. Then, with Unicamp's housing, I had contact with other streams of thought, which made me restructure what I understood in different dimensions, including as clothing. It was a moment when I started to understand myself as an art educator and wanted to multiply knowledge and information, pass it on. The very architecture of the university, which had been designed by a communist, was geared towards conviviality and exchange. I started to understand the power of aesthetics as a form of communication and even domination, and its influence in the cognitive field, in the processes of life and death. I also understood that art and sewing could be processes of healing and liberation from this toxic capitalist system that insists on putting us in the hole. I started giving several courses at SESC and uploading everything on the internet, which ended up generating identification of several trans people that I came to know, some much younger than me. This formed a network of multiple collaborations in design, styling, makeup, production. I have never done some of these things myself just because I like this displacement of new visions. We always try to think of a dynamic circular economy, of travestis having each other as references.
Can you tell us a little more about TRANSmoras Studio?
The studio starts in 2013, just when I occupied this empty room at Unicamp. I think I was locked up sewing for two years. During that time I had to build relationships to be able to maintain myself and include other people. It was in this process that I understood the importance of welcoming and we were, within the possible schemes, receiving some sisters that also had nowhere to go. Gradually, they became my assistants and we built our work collectively, being accepted in calls, doing fashion shows and courses. We collaborate with host houses, such as Sem Preconceito and Casa Chama, with the festival Marsha and the collectives Loka de Efavirenz, FudidaSilk, Animalia, TraveShow, among many others. Today, the project is a cultural point of reference for transgenders in Campinas. We are expanding more and more and soon we will have a new studio on a candomblé terreiro on the top street, led by Dil Vaskes and Pretynha.
Which show is your favorite, in a personal and professional dimension?
It is difficult to choose because all projects are important and reverberated in many incredible ways. Travesti Viva came from a residence at Atêlie Vivo, inside Casa do Povo, where we were called to give workshops. There were 46 models and a fully trans makeup team. We talked about HIV, ancestry, genocide and health. Our debut at Casa de Criadores, Where are the Travestis?, was a major milestone that made us appear in several newspapers and magazines and receive invitations to do other shows with funds. It was the second with Manauara Clandestina in the creative direction and Rafa Kennedy as a photographer and producer. There was also the staircase runway, which was very important for the collective, in the understanding of each one as an artist. We brought our individualities and built together a futuristic crossroad, sharing memories and envisioning a new life project. The last one was Brazil, Travestis World Champion, which resignifies a cover of the newspaper Lampião da Esquina. It comes from a collective funding and a 3-month workshop at the Tomie Othake Institute. We invited 9 designers to present their work and 11 visual artists to develop masks for the masculinity wing. Many critics asked us when the models would be looking beautiful, so we opened with the Fake Fashion Show wing, in which we questioned the idea of beauty and why those travestis, closest to the stereotype of a model, are not included in other shows.
Although your work reflects on reuse, disposal and garbage, you criticize the term upcycling.
What paths do you seek to move away from this coloniality of industrial production terms and modes?
Our work has no relation with an industrial production. We believe in work not as a form of torture and submission, but as a mechanism for transforming society. From the accumulation of information and mutations, the proposal of Bioncinha do Brasil arises to reflect and appropriate the waste as a power, since, like trans bodies, it is discarded and has less value for society. We understand upcycling as a binary and colonized term that does not match what we are building. That is why we think of the term textile transmutation, which reflects our local and non-cisgender process. During the pandemic, we developed the Semente project, where we taught how to produce hoodies-scarves from pieces they had in the closet. I believe that it is from this process of transvestite education that we are able to formulate new paths and propose solutions.
Semente Project for Fort Magazine, Photography: Cassia Tabatini, 2020
What is your understanding of product and finish, so current when determining "quality" in fashion?
The standard finishes are associated with a process of social hygiene, of valuing a more "clean" piece, that's why I think of blurring. Today, mass production goes hand in hand with excessive disposal. What is the sense of seeking this finish determined by the industry? I try to build an aesthetic where the seams are out, without canceling the layers of my process. I think, for example, of the color of the thread, in an attempt to seek beauty, but not beauty imposed by the other. I don't believe in defects, but in effects. I do not criticize the designers who choose these more conventional finishes, not least because there is a dimension of trim that is directly influenced by these decisions and techniques. However, I believe that it does not make sense to look for "quality" as a result of slave labor or exploitation. I seek above all a comfortable product that provides liberation and can question these violence.
Do you believe that textile production will become increasingly industrial and global or home and local? What are your possible path references?
I had never thought about the possibility of fast fashion industry breaking down, but I think that now we will have to review ourselves and our consumption. As neo-liberal society has a short memory, I am afraid that these processes will die, but from the expansion of our project and of this youth that is thinking about a textile transmutation, things may come differently in the future. I think a lot about how we can build a humanized environment, without committing to this production of death. Local will grow, the small brands, because we understand that developing our work, whether independent or collective, is much more interesting than being an employee for some company. But we cannot trivialize, because many people have not had those opportunites. I believe there will come a time when there will be an uprising. People will charge for placement and review or else break everything. This is already happening in a way. In this sense, some references for me are Igi Ayedun, Jota Momabaça, Coletivo Cabeças, Gustavo Silvestre, Diran Castro and several other sisters of whom I am close, who are in this very interesting investigation of new processes and other aesthetics.
Brasil, Travestis World Champion Backstage, Photography: Zé Takahashi/ Fotosite, 2019
The industry has a fixation for youth. Do you feel pressure to stay young? How do you deal with aging?
There are accumulations of experiences, you know. Because of that, I have the obligation to bring the foundation with results, and this is somehow aging. However, the question of youth is important, of bringing what is new. The new always comes and brings gas. I think it is important to feed and nurture it, not to close. The Christian and biblical process that is from the beginning, middle and end. I, on the other hand, try to think about the effervescences and from the accumulation propose exchange, become a "mentor". I have found aging a challenging process, not least because my childhood references, like Madonna, have aged badly. I'm afraid of becoming a sucker. I think that is why I am looking for a process that does not end. We must always be attentive. It's about going against society's expectation of making our bodies even more vulnerable, thinking about healthy ways to grow old. My artistic process brings this dialogue, to go against this fashion system that kills what is ancestral.
What is your next project and what do you hope to achieve in the long term?
Now we are finishing the next fashion show that will be virtual, on video, and will be presented on the Casa de Criadores website. I want to start doing some artistic residencies to leverage everything I've been building during these seasons. The proposal is to build an international career, to earn more money and an ever greater reach of my art. My long-term plan is to build a school and pedagogical center for textile transmutation, a place where I will be able to welcome trans people and create together a new lifestyle, of other constructions and healing of cisnormativity.