This is Carmen Miranda.
Even if you’ve never seen her movies, you recognize her Look: The beads, the bracelets, the flamboyant head wear.
It’s a style a person has to be fiercely and wholly commited to; never mind the weight of it. If you’re in for a penny, you’re in for several pounds.
You may be wondering why we’re talking about the Brazilian singer/actress who was, during WWII, the highest-paid woman in the United States. This was also the era of the American Good Neighbor Policy which was, on the face of it, meant to build closer relations between the U.S. and Latin America.
Miranda had been a successful singer in Brazil and a sensation on Broadway, and was lured to Hollywood by RKO Studios where she became a Technicolor queen. In 1945, she was paid over $200,000 a year (roughly $3M US today), and she was worth every cent.
“She was absolute magic,” Mickey Rooney once said, and actor Roddy McDowall mused, “She looked like she was having more fun than anyone else.”¹
This is why we’re talking about Carmen Miranda: People admired her then, and they still admire her today, especially when it comes to her Style.
For example, if you do a search on Google, you’ll find something like this:
“She was only about 5 feet tall,” says Italia Vogue, “but she was all curves. She had a beautiful expressive face and ironclad confidence. She wore decorative turbans topped with exotic fruits, flowers and other objects in the style of the dresses of women from Bahia.”²
The Guardian explains how Miranda “customized” the look of the women of Bahia, the style of Afro-Brazilian street vendors (“baianas”) in colonial times. “These [women] wore lace tops, gold jewellery and simple cloth turbans, and carried trays of fruit and other produce on their heads. In her stylised version, Carmen added sequins and a small imitation basket of fruit to her turban, which was made of lamé fabric.”³
We should point out Miranda was a boutique hat designer before she hit the Big Time.
Now, there are many online articles to help you design your own Carmen Miranda Look, such as this one HERE. But her fashion influence wasn’t confined to the beads or the lamé turbans.
Let us not forget the Shoes.
The Guardian tells it like this: “In 1934, when Miranda was a samba singer in Brazil, she commissioned an orthopaedic cobbler in Rio de Janeiro to make thick-soled shoes to boost her height – she was just 5 ft tall.”4
Even so, Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo is credited with introducing the world to the wedge heel in 1938, and here’s where Miranda becomes worthy of Shoe Legend status.
The lifestyle site Trama.Life, says, “Soon after she made worldwide success, [Miranda] began a long and happy partnership with Ferragamo, where they used brightness and heights (some platform were more than 20cm height [sic])… Ferrragamo created exclusive models for her, [and they became] one of the most important features of her look.”5
And what of Brazilians? How did they view Miranda?
In 1940, she returned to Rio de Janeiro for a series of perfomances, only to find audiences cool and unreceptive. According to an A&E documentary, Brazilians felt she had sold out to the United States.
“She was derided for having become Americanized,” says the documentary. “This crushed her.”6
But two months later, she launched a new stage show which poked fun at her “Americanization”, and Brazilian audiences loved her for it.
See? She was bedazzled and clever.
In August of 1955, Miranda appeared on the Jimmy Durante Show, where she stumbled slightly while performing a song. She told Durante she was out of breath, but the way she handled it, you’d never know it foretold Something Else.
That night she died of a heart attack. She was 46 years old.
Her body was returned to Brazil, and her country mourned. According to A&E, she lay in state in the City Hall of Rio de Janeiro where approximately 60,000 people came to pay their last respects.
We hope you’ll take the opportunity to watch one of her films, such as That Night in Rio (1941). It’ll be immediately apparent why audiences still fall in love with Carmen Miranda – and her sense of Style.
This post is part of LUSO WORLD CINEMA Blogathon, hosted by Spellbound by Movies & Crítica Retrô.
¹A&E Biography: Carmen Miranda (1996), A&E.
²Italia Vogue. (Retrieved October 20, 2019.) Do You Remember Carmen Miranda?
³The Guardian. (Retrieved October 20, 2019.) Carmen Miranda’s fashion: Turbans, Platform Shoes and a lot of controversy
5 Trama.Life. (Retrieved October 21, 2019.) Trend tropical fashion: Carmen Miranda and her influence on fashion.
6A&E Biography: Carmen Miranda.