"Life is a circle. And it has had mystical attraction for millennia, symbolizing so much. Totality, the self, the ongoing energy in nature." These words stem from the brand philosophy of MARCO, the fashion house of Marco Ribeiro. Now living and working within the Parisian fashion scene, Ribeiro and his brand aim to blend a bold whimsical aesthetic with this touchingly unifying metaphor. His newest collection aptly achieves this: using exaggeration and expression to reflect upon the current moment, without all the seriousness.
Marco, tell us about the life of a Brazilian designer in Paris. What originally brought you to this city so often coined the fashion capital of the world?
At first it was the curiosity to explore and experience something new, and to get out of the comfort zone where I was in. I wanted to learn from new experiences, a new language and a new culture.
It was obvious to me that I had to be in Paris. Somehow I managed to find myself living here, speaking no French and very little English so I had to learn the Parisian way of life very quickly. The streets of Paris are a source of great inspiration, the ordinary and the extraordinary of everyday life and the people there. I feel Paris has some amazing combinations of style, architecture, and nature that I always like to play with in my shoots and collections.
If you could sum the essence of MARCO, what would it be?
Graphic. Bold. Colourful. Fun. Sculptural. Playful.
What was your pathway into design and owning your own brand?
Growing up my parents had a small atelier supplying local stores. My father also used to make his Saturday ‘night out’ outfits during the week. I found it very inspiring watching them create something from nothing.
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. When I was younger, in the absence of diversity and representation in fashion, I did not see how or what this could be so it wasn’t until I was older and started MARCO that I looked back and realised it was something I always wanted to do. It was totally organic.
There were two reasons that led me to want to start MARCO. Firstly, to realise my dreams and ambitions and secondly, I hope one day to be able to turn around and help create more opportunities for young talent that I didn’t have.
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Your work is really breath-taking due to its sculptural construction, what draws you towards these shapes and techniques which are so impactful and artistic?
I feel shapes are the building blocks of everything: the human body, architecture, fashion etc. This is really what draws me to using them in my designs. I find it super fun to play with bold and sculptural shapes to disrupt the environment around me and expose the constructs and limitations we live in.
For example the oversized graphic silhouettes of the big circle looks are deliberately dramatic and a bit absurd and expose the absurdity around us.
How do you begin a design? What is your creative origin point?
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 very passionate and sensitive. Sometimes it starts with a song, or a dance, or video, or exhibition. Then I research unusual techniques that have been forgotten over time and mix them with more current techniques, or other artistic disciplines to reach what I hope is a unique and extraordinary result.
The circle motif is clearly really important to your work, can you explain the significance of the cyclical loop to us?
Life is a circle. And it has had mystical attraction for millennia, symbolizing so much. Totality, the self, the ongoing energy in nature. It’s such a powerful shape and I was drawn to it from as early as I remember. It just felt natural to make it part of my collections, and to keep finding new ways to explore it.
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I read in your brand manifesto that the circle is ‘a symbol of peaceful protest and union.’ How do you translate this sentiment of activism into your design practices? Does it speak to the political climate in Paris right now?
For me the circle is a symbol of union. A message of equality. Without an obvious start or end the circle is a continuous line. This also makes you stop and think about the current moment. In our modern world that pause in a way is a protest. When things are so instant these days and short lived to say stop and think is quite a big thing.
I don’t try to be specifically political. I care very much about political equity but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that my design is activism. I think that would be unfair to those on the front line in unsafe spaces or people who paved the way in past generations. But being a Black designer means I did (and still do) have to fight for my space in a way that some other people haven’t had to. Of course this affects my process, but that is a personal experience and private.
Your latest MARCO Collection III has the moniker Epiphany, implying a realisation or revelation. Can you elaborate as to what this moment of epiphany was which resulted in the conception of your third collection?
When I started working on the last collection I was going through a process of self-reflection. Having an opportunity to self reflect created moments and opportunities for ideas to occur. And these moments felt super magical and like having a synaesthetic experience.
I was looking and understanding what I really wanted to say with my designs, and it felt like an epiphany. So although the pandemic was a very difficult time in some ways, it also was a productive and positive time too.
The collection Epiphany was my refuge in distraction and a relief from the reality of difficult moments, chaos and uncertainty. An expression of pause between the playful, the extraordinary and fantasy.
The new collection is so playful and whimsical. Was this your intention with the exaggerated shapes and silhouettes?
I always try to be playful, not just in my work but in life. Life is too serious sometimes so the big shapes, bright colours, and exaggerated silhouettes are my way of saying enjoy life! At the end of the day, I am a fashion designer, not a doctor saving lives. I think my place in the world is to give people the tools to be self expressive and have fun – that’s my intention when I design.
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There’s also an organic quality that permeates the colour palette of the new collection: jewel tones like purple, emerald, and blue mix with deep browns and oranges. Is there a deeper meaning behind these colours other than the complementary hues?
I am a very visual person so I didn’t really have a bigger or deeper meaning behind the colours other than wanting the overall feeling to be positive and optimistic.
I also believe that colors not only exist to assimilate the appearance of things, but colour also has an internal resonance and can be emotive, stimulating feelings and memories. So it’s not about a deeper meaning, but a deeper feeling.
Growing up in Brazil with so much nature around me still informs my palette. The bright and vibrant colours of everyday life in Latin America, leaves, flowers and exotic fruits against rich earthy brown and sand tones. I love to bring these unusual color combinations. I also wanted to empower a model with my own skin tone by creating the illusion of nudity with my colour selection.
Speaking of influences, are there any designers or artists who inspire your work?
Many! But Pierre Cardin and Helio Oiticica are probably my biggest inspirations.
Would it be fair to say there’s influences of wider movements like European modernism in your designs? For example, does your interest in geometric shapes, dynamism, and block colours harp back to abstract artists like Mondrian?
I am very inspired by the Bauhaus and their principals of shape, colour, and craft. Maybe the modernist influences come via Niemeyer and Brazil’s modernist architecture.
Lastly, what are the wider goals for MARCO and how will you be fulfilling them in the near future?
For the immediate future it’s mainly about building a sustainable business. We’ve just opened an e-shop and that will continue to develop over the next few months. Beyond that I just want to grow, continue to challenge myself and produce work I am proud of. I am going to stay focused on the work.
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