CHRIS BARRETO'S DESIGNS MAKE A SPLASH
The secret is out
By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Paula Rath
Many fashion designers pursue celebs relentlessly, almost like paparazzi, trying to get them to wear their clothes on a stage or red carpet. For Big Island fashion designer Chris Barreto — whose work is featured in the Kailua, Kona event ECOmarket on Saturday (see box) — it happened by accident and it happened with a mega star: Madonna.
Here's the story: Barreto, a native of Brazil, has danced capoeira since she was 16. She would perform in the streets to see people's reactions, and She made her own costumes by cutting up leggings and hand painting them, then sewing them into garments. The costumes were art pieces, and her performances morphed into an individualized performance art.
"I understood myself better after seeing people react to my clothes. It was risky and exciting," Barreto said. In 1993, Madonna spotted her on the street and was intrigued. Barreto delivered a hand-painted bra, leggings and arm coverings to Madonna's hotel room and Madonna wore them all on stage that night.
"I was not prepared for the response!" Barreto exclaimed.
The success catapulted her to Sao Paulo, where she became "part of a street movement that was a mix of art, dance and fashion," Barreto said. She worked with a hosiery factory that agreed to make dresses out of stockings for her to hand paint. Each costume was painstakingly painted by hand.
Frustrated with her inability to find seamstresses in Sao Paulo, Barreto took the leap to New York. There she was discovered by Wolford, the Austrian hosiery maker, who asked her to design several colorful collections for them.
RETURN TO ROOTS
After a few years, Barreto burned out on New York. "I thought, 'I need the ocean and to connect with nature and to defend my ideas of being a green person and returning to my tribal roots,' " she said in her colorful Brazilian-ized English. During a Christmas visit to a friend in Hawai'i, she fell in love with the Islands, especially the Big Island, which she calls "a place of pure nature." She decided to move there and start designing.
During a trip home to visit family in Brazil, she and her mother sourced fabrics and found a manufacturer who could make her line of bikinis, bustiers, cover-ups and dresses.
Barreto's first collection from Hawai'i is called Brasil Segredo. It's inspired by the colors, music and mix of cultures that make up her native Brazil, as well as the tropical beauty of Hawai'i. Her signature bikini is the Lolita Fru-Fru, a ruffled, ultra-feminine design. Barreto uses interesting hardware and innovative details on her bikinis. Although much of her line is somewhat revealing and skews young, she also designs long dresses, cover-ups and tunics that flatter many figures. There is a sprinkling of animal prints as well as hot Brazilian brights: turquoise, royal blue, fuchsia, gold, all right on trend for 2009.
Barreto has also introduced a line of yoga and active wear with lots of pizzazz. Her leggings and bra tops can add sizzle to any workout. At ECOmarket, Barreto will introduce her latest designs, 100 percent organic art T-shirts for men. These are truly artwear, embellished with shells and coconut.
Segredo means "secret" and so far Barreto is a well-kept secret in the Islands. Currently her clothes are sold only on the Big Island, but she is looking for stores to carry the line on other islands, especially O'ahu. She also sells through her Web site (www.chrisbarreto.com), which, as a bonus, features music by Zooga Malaga.
Reach Paula Rath at email@example.com.