Icon of the Week: Carmen Miranda

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As we transcend from winter to spring, we gain a sense of refreshment, escaping from winter blues and welcoming an oasis of lighter, brighter colors. Perhaps you accept spring through your choice of clothing, a renewed living space, or even a change in interests. For me, it's seeking inspiration from fashion icons who accept a new season into their wardrobe and adopt every feeling you associate with the season. Just think of summer — tropical, warm, lusciously colorful and fun, all of the characteristics of the one and only Carmen Miranda.

If you don't recognize her by her name, you'll definitely recognize her by her iconic image: the lady in the tutti frutti hat. Always a lover of fashion and theatre, Carmen herself was named after Bizet's opera, Carmen. Her father's passion for opera inspired her to sing and dance as a little girl and eventually put her talent to use in other ways. Originally being from Portugal (February 9, 1909), she moved to Rio de Janeiro, singing at festivals and maintaining a job to help with her sister's medical bills. When she wasn't working on hats, a talent she discovered while working at a boutique, she was auditioning on radio shows and creating her own image to stand out from her competition.

Her competition, however, grew weaker and weaker as she grew more famous and was given a contract in 1929, becoming the first contract singer in Brazil's radio industry. With this exposure, she traveled to other cities to perform as a samba singer and made her screen debut on A Voz Do Carnaval (1933), Alô, Alô Brasil and the 1935 film, Estudantes. Her biggest opportunity came when an American theatre operator saw her perform and made a contract with her to make an American stage debut in Streets of Paris (1939). She spoke a total of four words yet became a huge sensation, so much so that President Roosevelt formally introduced her to the American public as a way to welcome her to the U.S.

From this welcoming, Carmen shared her refreshing image with Hollywood and Broadway, bringing tropical-chic to the scene. With her new contracts, she was able to produce some of her best work in That Night at Rio, Week-End in Havana, The Gang's All Here and Copacabana. Although she became the highest paid woman in the U.S. by 1945, she continued to make the costumes she appeared in, making them more and more extravagant each time. Her iconic platform heels became taller (to hide the fact that she was only five feet tall!) and designers like Ferragamo created custom designs just for her. Her flamboyant floral, fruity headdresses, turbans and bold accessories became her signature look, never to be forgotten. Although she passed away in 1955 at the age of 46, her image lives on through many artistic outlets today. I'm sure you'll never see fruit the same way ever again!

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