In the past decade, Brazil has undergone drastic economic transformations that have led to an increase in the size of its middle class. This segment of Brazil’s population has used its buying power as a means of self-definition, with mass consumerism as evidence of not only their existence, but also their success. Though new name-brand electronics, homewares, and clothing are high on the wish lists of Brazil’s nouveaux riches, old items have emerged as the signs of true taste.
Labels remain a marker of one’s class status, as many imported goods and clothing brands such as Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, LG, and Apple remain inaccessible to a large majority of Brazilians. The Brazilian government insists on high import taxes to keep demand for foreign goods relatively low and protect its domestic market, though in recent years it has steadily encouraged its population to experience the world with both their eyes and their wallets. Subsequently, foreign marcas (labels) have lost a degree of their exclusivity among the pre-existing middle to upper classes. Additionally, the emergent avante-garde of college-educated, city-dwelling young people have contributed greatly to this process as they have sought to challenge the style status quo by establishing their own alternative.
Style, in today’s terms, does not lie in an item’s newness, label, or location of origin. Instead, in large cities like Rio and São Paulo, alternative youth subcultures and the “old” middle class have come to valorize vintage wares and antique furnishings over the often cheaply made newer options. This taste, however, has a high price-tag of its own, with many of the items costing well above their foreign counterparts, a reality that antiques specialist André notes is only somewhat eased by the internet. “You can go on the internet now and find an item sold somewhere else for less,” he noted. “Sometimes when we do pricing, we have to keep this in mind.” I met Andre at São Paulo’s famous Feira de Antiguidades (Antiques Fair) in Praça Benedito Calixto. His booth stood out among many of the others as it contained countless collectibles connected to one of my favorite subjects: music. He had record players and grammaphones in excellent condition for their age, all of which he restored himself.
Curious about how André and other antiques connoisseurs acquired their goods, I spoke with several dealers behind the booths. Many had taken the items off the hands of those who had lost love ones and simply did not know what to do with their old goods. “In some cases, a relative dies and someone in the family will come here to sell their old things,” André noted. Andre, who declined to give his last name as he felt his goods spoke better for themselves than he ever could, also buys and sells items from his home by appointment. Other traders like Pedro Amorim, prefer to use the internet to acquire their goods. “I buy lots of things from the internet, but I sell there as well.” Pedro, whose collection of colorful restored rotary phones caught my eye immediately, is not afraid to use the computer as a point of trade. His page on Mercado Livre (a Brazilian site similar to eBay and Amazon) is always fully stocked, and his customers pay a pretty penny for his fluorescent phones; each one sells for R$200 ($100 USD) a piece.
For others, consignment sales came about through a personal hobby or out of love for all things vintage. Husband and wife team Thomas and Elizethe fill their Saturdays with booth sales in vintage clothes and accessories. Their all-leather vintage purse collection was a true standout. Each piece was in excellent condition and Elizethe had even upgraded some of the bags to include secret pockets for one’s cell phone or mp3 player.
But vintage and antiques sales are not limited to Saturdays in Pinheiros, the neighborhood that is home to the Praça Benedito Calixto. In fact, there is at least one feira das antiguidades in all the major cities in Brazil. In Rio, the most popular antique fair takes place at Praça XV in Centro. Amidst skyscrapers and new buildings, vendors sell items from as far back as the early 1800s. Booths upon booths are filled with old coins, jewelry, clothing, and even military supplies! There are also sections along the margins of the fair where antique traders sell furniture in all conditions (as some buyers want to do the restoration work themselves). In addition to the fairs, there are several malls where you can find brechó (vintage) stores galore, such as the Galeria Ouro Fino in São Paulo or Shopping Cidade Copacabana in Rio.
Though I have my own motives for attending these fairs (I am building a collection of clip-on earrings from each of the places I travel; see above), they are lots of fun to check out even if you have no intention of making a purchase. They are great places to learn more about a country’s history just by looking at artifacts from the past and excellent locations for people watching. Their food stations, complete with yummy lanches (snacks/quick bites) from various regions of Brazil, will keep your stomach happy as well!
If you’re ever in Rio or São Paulo, I highly suggest giving these antique fairs and stores a go:
Feira de Antiguidades de Praça Benedito Calixto; Pinheiros
every Saturday from 9 am to 7 pm
Feira de Antiguidades de Paulista (aka “Feira do MASP” (Museu de Arte de São Paulo)), Avenida Paulista, 1578; Bela Vista
every Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm
Galeria Ouro Fino, Rua Augusta 2690; Jardim Paulista
Monday through Saturday from 8 am to 8 pm
Rio de Janeiro:
Feira de Antiguidades de Praça XV; Centro
every Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm
Feira do Rio Antigo, Rua do Lavradio; Centro
first Saturdays from 10 am to 6 pm
Shopping Cicade Copacabana, Rua Siqueira Campos, 143; Copacabana
check site for individual store hours
Posted by Wendi Muse – MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU