It's a Girl's Thing

Fashionholic Chiara Manfrinato describes the unique role played by fashion translators and creates a parallel between this field and the “chick lit” genre.

Dressed to Kill

Consultant Vitor Brasil discusses the growing popularity of Brazilian fashion and culture abroad and how effective translation helps local designers reach new markets.

Making a Fashion Statement
Ronald Villardo

Or how one can drive a translator mad...


When I read the April 30 edition of the “Ela” section in the mainstream Brazilian newspaper, O Globo, I came across the following phrase: “mulheres modernas com saias tipo ânfora e blusas de gola alta com estampas de poás.” I immediately thought about how this phrase would have been written in the original English¹ , as it referred to a New York Times article written by fashion journalist, Cathy Horyn.

For three years, I worked as assistant editor of a website specializing in fashion. One of my tasks was to translate texts from international agencies into Portuguese. Yet one of the biggest challenges involved in this kind of work was to make the adjectives used by the so-called international fashion experts understandable to Portuguese language speakers. In English texts, it is not unusual to describe a new collection presented at a fashion show as “fresh,” “trendy” or “cool.” And that’s that. Americans and Britons appear satisfied with single-word analyses. Brazilians, on the other hand, are not. More than a simple adjective is required to accurately describe something that is supposedly artistic yet certainly commercial, such as a bikini collection.

It is commonplace to say that those words are virtually untranslatable. Not owing to the translator’s incompetence, but rather because such words have implicit meanings belonging to a semantic universe much larger than the mere definition in a dictionary. “Fresh” is not just fresco or novo. It is also jovem (young), leve (light), pra cima (up beat). “Trendy” is not just something that follows the latest fad or fashion, it is also what embodies a so-called modernity and therefore has assured its own “usability” — or should one say “wearability”? A “trendy” person dresses and acts “trendy.” See how difficult it is? I won’t even try to explain “cool!”

The mathematics of the adjectives used in fashion texts is so complex that well-humored comments are not unusual among those in the business. One such example is the joke where Donatella Versace tries to describe her new collection, only with too few adjectives for such a task.

“My collection is totally colorful… totally young... totally totally!!!” (Read with an Italian accent, please!)

Due to the use of simple adjectives, the apparently easy translation of fashion texts actually presents a range of obstacles for the adventurous translator. The subjectivity of many concepts that invade international fashion publications can be a hair-raising activity for most translators (dare to translate that sentence into any language...)

Regardless of the period you are dealing with, fashion terminology
can be a hair-raising experience

Mastering such concepts is the secret for translating fashion texts. The translator needs to know what a fashion show is, how fashionists think (yes, they do think) and last but not least, be fluent in the lingua franca of the fashion world. Now, back to what really matters: do you know how to say nervura in English? And what about rolotê? You don’t know what a rolotê is? Oh please! `

¹ The original text was “modern-thinking women in tulip skirts and high-necked polka-dot blouses.”

Ronald Villardo has been a fashion and nightlife journalist for the past 10 years. He worked as a reporter for Jornal do Brasil, wrote for Folha de São Paulo and served as assistant editor of “Moda” magazine (published by Folha de São Paulo). He currently writes for the “Ela” section of O Globo and is an author and presenter of the “Nitelife” program for Paradiso FM radio station. He also works as a translator and English teacher and has a degree in Literature from Santa Úrsula University. Villardo is quite sure that fashion and nightlife are subjects for those with nothing better to do with their lives.