8 Things
Renata Abbade, designer and stylist

A lot of designers call themselves multidisciplinary, but they’ve got nothing on Renata Abbade. A former stylist for magazines like Purple and fashion brands like VPL, the São Paulo–born, Los Angeles–based designer has spent the better part of the last decade involved in a wonderfully weird array of activities: creating a cult jewelry line in ceramics, dancing on stage at Lollapalooza with the Brazilian band CSS, starring in a series of self-produced dance and workout videos (including one for CSS, in which she wore masks depicting each of the band members’ faces), designing terrariums, landscapes, rugs, tapestries, and fabrics, DJing down in Brazil, and performing with a semi-fictitious band called High Waisted. She refers to herself both as a freestylist and a fashion artist, but in truth, what she’s often creating amounts to something more like performance art, where she is the subject, channeling personal interests and experiences into new and different media. “To me, it feels like I’m only doing one thing, even if I’m involved in a lot of different things,” says Abbade. “Like with the terrariums, it’s basically styling with plants instead of clothes, and land instead of people.”

As you might expect from a 30-something designer with such diverse interests, Abbade is constantly pulling from a reference sheet a mile long and peppered with 1980s paraphernalia — karaoke videos, ice-skating costumes, Weird Science, Norma Kamali fashions, Jane Fonda workout tapes, and Duran Duran album covers among them. But her most enduring inspiration comes from her childhood in Brazil. “Everything I know is very tropical and colorful and happy and uplifting,” says Abbade, despite the fact that she grew up in upstate São Paulo and moved to the city — which she calls dirty and chaotic — at age 17. “It’s such a dense place, and the clouds never go away,” she says. “But if it were bright all of the time, the messiness would show up so much more. This way, you have to look to find the beautiful details.”

Abbade grew up dreaming of moving to New York; when she was 18, she went on a “Supermarket Sweeps”–type television show in Brazil — which would prefigure her styling prowess — and won a $4,000 trip to the city. She came home to attend fashion school at Santa Marcelina, just a few years behind fellow alum Alexandre Herchcovitch, but found herself itching to get back; a job as a styling assistant ended up being her ticket. It was in New York that she planted the seeds for most of her projects. She learned how to do ceramics at the downtown Manhattan Educational Alliance; she met one of the members of CSS — who’d seen a video of her dancing by herself on Coney Island — at a random cafe in Chinatown. But once the recession hit, New York lost a bit of its allure. “To me, New York was a place to work and make money and have fun. But then work got kind of down, money was way down, and the fun wasn’t there anymore. Also, I felt a strong need to reconnect with nature,” she says, which is what brought her to the studio and apartment we visited last month in Echo Park. “Los Angeles has the best of all of that. It’s a city, but you can go to the beach, the mountains, and the desert. I mean, there’s a waterfall up the street from my house.”

In L.A., Abbade has been making her jewelry at the Barnsdall Art Park, which overlooks the Hollywood Hills and is home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, and she’s been branching out into household objects like pots, wall hangings, and tiles. It’s in L.A., as well, that she’s turned to more landscape-based projects. “I actually just did my first one — a friend’s mom is renovating a house and there’s an atrium in the front yard. It’s really about creating a look, but for the ground. It’s still about making something look beautiful.” Here’s a closer look at the threads that tie all of Abbade’s disparate work together.

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Myself: “I am constantly gathering inspiration from my personal universe and experiences,” says Abbade. Case in point: her website, where Abbade hosts a series of self-portraits done in Photoshop, needlepoint, pencil, and the like, as well as a styling library where she often appears half-naked in neon pink bikini bottoms along with one other key piece. “At one point, I decided to catalog everything I own,” she says. “As a stylist you get a lot for free, but also when you have a specific style, people are always giving you thimgs. I was going to shoot one piece at a time, but I started with the stuff on my floor and never made to the drawers or the closet!”

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Myself: “Sometimes I feel like everything I do is about me. I’m a little self-obsessed. But it's changed over the years. Before, I used to be like, ‘Look at me, look at me, attention!’ Now it’s more like I know where I stand and I work around that.” Pictured above is a photo of Abbade’s hand and a flower turned into a print in Photoshop.

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Myself: “This is a print I designed based on a photo of my closet in New York,” says Abbade. “It was bought in Brazil by a clothing company called Amapô, which is the same company that used a pineapple print I did from a photo of a plantation I visited in Bahia, Brazil.”

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Above, a photo of Amapô’s resulting jacket.

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Nature: “It sounds cliché to say I’m inspired by nature, but I really am,” says Abbade. “Fauna, flora, sky, water, earth, fire, clouds, textures, layers, gradients, desert, beach, jungle, stones, rocks, woods, metals, sunshine, snow, landscapes, asteroids, cosmos, light — all of that is a source for my work.”

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Nature: Pictured above, one of Abbade’s terrariums. “I’m a Virgo with Capricorn rising, so I’m double earth,” she says. “I’ve always loved working with clay and soil.”

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Nature: One of Abbade’s ceramic necklaces — this one strung with a vintage scarf — which sell in New York at Maryam Nassir Zadeh and in Los Angeles at TenOverSix. “With the ceramics, there’s a lot of experimentation. It’s so different from styling, which is such a quick process. You prep, you shoot, you’re done. Once I figured out that ceramics can take weeks or months, I started experimenting with the texture and temperament of clay. My favorite thing to do is to fold the clay over and roll it like paper, which creates different levels.”

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Nature: Another set of necklaces, which incorporate crumbled clay and different glazes. “It’s always a surprise what the glazes are going to look like. It depends on the temperature, if the kiln is irregular in some way — there are always these weird effects. I’m supposed to write down what I’m using, but I never do, so I never know exactly what’s going to come out.”

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Hans Donner: “Growing up in Brazil, I was inundated with the work of Hans Donner, a designer from Austria who fell in love with Brazil and since the early ’80s has done all of the design for the biggest TV network in Brazil, Globo — including their logo, some sets, and all the motion graphics and typography (above). He also designs furniture, and watches he calls 'timension' that work according to light and darkness and the flow of nature.”

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Hans Donner: “Every year during Carnaval for the past 20 or so years, there are these vignettes with his wife Valeria as a samba dancer, wearing his designs hand-painted all over her naked body! It’s amazing! Very '80s.”

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Hans Donner: “From being so exposed to his style my entire life, I grew to adore spectrums, gradients, and neon colors, and I guess much of my ’80s style comes from him. I had to design a few outfits for a show last year, and this is what I came up with.”

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Oaxacan wood carvings: “Wood carvings and embroidery from the region of Oaxaca, Mexico, have become my obsession. They’re done by the whole family — three and sometimes four generations working together. They dye their own thread for the embroidery and mix their own paints for the wood carvings.”

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Oaxacan wood carvings: “I love how everything is very intricate, the unique color palette, the childlike imagination, and the fact that it's a family collaboration process. That’s what art is for me: I actually work better when I’m collaborating with someone as well. If I’m hired to DJ, I’ll often ask a friend to come with and dance with me in the booth. Or with my necklaces, I’ll often get the fabric straps from my friends at a Brazilian fashion label called Neon.”

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Felines: "My kittens will continue to be an endless source of inspiration! Sun-Ra is the golden girl, and Moondog is the silver tiger dude."

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Felines: In Abbade's hands, even kittens get the Photoshop treatment.

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Roberto Burle Marx: Abbade cites the Brazilian landscape architect — who became famous for organizing plants in accordance with aesthetic movements like Cubism, and for designing the undulating sidewalks at Rio’s Copacabana — as a major influence. “He was actually quite a Renaissance man. He was a tapestry designer, painter, sculptor, tile glazer, chef, singer, and jewelry and set designer as well.”

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Roberto Burle Marx: “He said: ‘It is obvious that the concept of a garden goes beyond an aesthetic composition. It also signifies the necessity of men to live intimately with nature.’ I really try to live by that quote."

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Roberto Burle Marx: “I believe his tropical style and abstract 'Brazilianity' influences everything I do, from my necklaces to this tapestry I recently made.”

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The American Southwest: “A recent trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon really inspired me, and I’m currently working on a Navajo-style needlepoint pattern. The colors and textures and shapes of the rocks there fascinate me — rocks are the only element in nature that grow from the outside in.”

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Africa: Abbade derives much of her color philosophy and her love for craft from travel, and one of her favorite places to travel is Africa — which coincidentally, in many ways, often reminds travelers of Brazil. “The culture, the people, the colors, the crafts, the dresses, the accessories, the tribes… I’m obsessed with all of it. I collect kangas, which are these printed African fabrics (above), and I love Tinga Tinga paintings.”

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Africa: “Tinga Tinga is this style that they only have in Tanzania, and my boyfriend and I went to a school in Dar es Salaam that teaches the craft. They do the base coat in acrylic paint first — which in this case is red — and keep painting over it. It’s always animals in some sort of safari scene.”

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Africa: “Actually even though I love African crafts, I like this because it doesn’t even look like it’s specifically from Africa — it could be from Brazil or Panama or Mexico.”