She was a Brazilian fashion designer from Minas Gerais, Brazil, who achieved international success in the 1970s.
Her name was Zuleika de Souza Netto, and she was born in Curvelo, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on June 5th, 1921. She then moved to Bahia, Brazil. Because of the years spent there, Zuzu suffered a lot of influence of Bahian lacemakers in her work. In 1943 she married the American Norman Angel Jones with whom she had three children: Stuart, Hildegard and Ana Cristina. In 1947 she moved to Rio de Janeiro and began her career as a “figurinista” (costume designer), term used at the time to name fashion designers in Brazil.
Zuzu’s contact with fashion dates back to her childhood, when she was still very young she was already sewing clothes for her cousins. In the 1950s her career as a fashion designer began. In 1960 she separated from her then husband.
During the 1950s and 1960s Zuzu’s business grew until it gained international fame. Zuzu used to go to the United States a lot and had great contacts there. Therefore, she managed to advertise her brand in such a way that it came to attain clients such as: Joan Crawford, Yolanda Costa e Silva, Helô Amado, Heloisa Lustosa, Kim Novak, Margot Fontaine and Liza Mineli. Finally, in the early 1970s, she opened a store in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that became very famous.
It was when her son Stuart died that Zuzu’s life changed forever. Stuart was a political activist and was part of the “Movimento Revolucionário 8 de Outubro – MR-8” (October 8 Revolutionary Movement). On June 14th, 1971, he was arrested by the CISA [Centro de Informações e Segurança da Aeronáutica (Aeronautics Information and Security Center)] and was never seen again.
Due to her son’s unexplained death, Zuzu spent the rest of her life looking for answers about what had happened to Stuart.
Because of her perseverance, she was able to discover that her son had been arrested and tortured by CISA and that his body had been thrown into the sea, as well as that of many other political prisoners of the time.
Zuzu did not let her son’s death be in vain and made sure that the world knew what was happening in Brazil. Again she used all of her contacts to publicize what had happened to Stuart.
Because of the search for her son, Zuzu’s perspective on life changed a lot and her clothes were a reflection of that change. Despite maintaining her style, she used her clothes to protest against the military dictatorship that was held in Brazil at the time. In a fashion show held at the Brazilian embassy in New York (it was done there due to a Brazilian law that said it was forbidden for protests against the country to take place outside of it, and as the embassy was Brazilian soil, the law was not valid there), she showed a collection with embroidery of war tanks, caged birds, bruised and gagged angels and figures of crucifixes, the sun behind bars, jeeps and hoodies.
The cheerful clothes that had always been a symbol of great Brazilian sewing abroad now carried great political weight against the same country that she helped to promote.
She died in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on April 14, 1976, in an accident caused by the same area of the Brazilian aeronautics that arrested and killed her son.
Already suspicious that she might be the victim of an attack, a week before she passed away she left a letter in the house of friends like Chico Buarque that contained the phrase “If I appear dead, by accident, assault or any other means, it will have been a work of the same murderers of my beloved son ”.
Zuzu’s fashion was of simple modeling, but of very special delicacy. It had great Brazilian influence, with the use of Brazilian stones and Bahian lace. She wore cheerful colors and angel prints, her trademarks being birds, flowers and animals. Zuzu was innovative in several ways and she was the one who brought the term “fashion designer” to Brazil. She was also the one who started wearing her logo on the outside of her clothes and, most importantly, she was the one who held the world’s first political protest fashion show. (Which can be seen below)
Besides being a fashion designer Zuzu Angel was and is a political symbol.
In her honor, a movie was made entitled “Zuzu Angel” in 2006 and some fashion designers, like Ronaldo Fraga, used and use her as inspiration for their collections until today. In addition, the tunnel in which she suffered the “accident” that caused her death today is called “the Zuzu Angel tunnel”. Even so, the most famous tribute made in her name is the song “Angélica” by Chico Buarque and Miltinho.
2006 Zuzu Angel movie trailer:
Bibliography: Allan, Georgina O’Hara; Enciclopédia da Moda: De 1840 À Década de 90: Companhia das Letras, 2010.