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published on July 10, 2008

Daspu: Streetwalker Fashion from Rio de Janeiro

by Bill Hinchberger

Viola Berlanda
Maria in the Praça Tiradentes, Rio de Janeiro
The clothes can hold their own with any of Brazil’s top fashion labels. But the sayings on the t-shirts and other items give them away: “Lost Women are the Most Wanted,” “Before the Show, Tune Your Instrument” and “We’re Bad, but We Could be Worse.”

On catwalks in dance clubs, at movie premieres and big-time art exhibitions, and of course at AIDS conferences and in red-light districts, Brazilian prostitutes strut their stuff to promote their own line of high fashion under the Daspu label.

Daspu is the creation of a prostitutes rights group in Rio de Janeiro called Davida. The name Daspu is not only rooted in the term "das putas" (from the whores) but is also a spoof on Daslu, Brazil's snobbiest upscale boutique.

When press reports of Daspu’s founding emerged three years ago, the haute São Paulo-based Daslu threatened to sue. Played out in the media, the saga gave Daspu a welcome boost of free publicity. In time, Daslu’s lawyers retreated and no lawsuit was brought.

An organization OF prostitutes (not FOR prostitutes), Davida doesn't want to get the women (or men, as the case may be) off the streets. It defends the rights of sex workers as citizens. It strives to create safe working conditions – witness its HIV prevention and anti-violence campaigns. Prostitution is not illegal in Brazil, but neither is it recognized under the labor laws. Beyond the usual job hazards like police harassment and condom-hating johns, hookers can't get social security and other government benefits. A friendly congressman has introduced a bill to have the profession formally recognized.

Representing workers in the “pleasure industry,” Davida has always favored novel and enjoyable ways to argue its case: Carnival parades, street serenades and theater. “I always thought that activism should be more fun,” said Gabriela Leite, an ex-prostitute with a sociology degree and coordinator of Davida. Leite shies away from marches with chants like, as she put it, “Putas united will never be defeated!”

Daspu represents the organization's most rousing success, both in terms of visibility and financial returns that help fund its other activities. Including a full line of skirts, dresses, tops, shorts and bikinis and sundry accessories, each Daspu collection adheres to a theme. The “truck drivers” line featured items stamped with suggestive, road-tested bumper-sticker maxims. The Puta Arte line riffs on prostitutes featured in art, drawing on everyone from Picasso to the Brazilian traditional woodcut print artist J. Borges. In April 2008 a Davida contingent traveled to Milan to show off items created in partnership with the Italian designer Antonio Cagianelli.


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