“Maybe I am not the right person…” she implies with hesitation. For the past half hour Filipa Gomes has taxed my reactions and observations with visible uncertainty and the occasional flick of her pony tail. She undeniably looks the part. From where I am sitting, on the wooden patio, in front of a plate with Portuguese egg tarts and Elvis playing on her iPod, she reminds me of Betty Page. She’s wearing a 50s circle skirt with a botanical print, a black strapless top and a pair of cat-eye reading glasses. And it all looks vintage, but none of it is. Ay. “I have a problem with the smell of vintage clothes,” she confesses quietly. “Makes me nauseous…” But that’s not the only reason for her dismay. “It’s not easy to find my style in the pret-a-porter shops, nor in the vintage stores,” she continues. “So when I want something that I can’t find, I make it myself or hire a dressmaker.”
And that’s where she gets me. Filipa Gomes is the most unusual and rare sorts of 1950s housewives. She sews! She crochets! She cooks! As soon as she moved in with her boyfriend six years ago, her passion for food flared up. She has no cooking degree – she studied advertising – but managed to get cast as a TV Chef at 24 Kitchen on the Fox Food Network. She’s now written and hosted 110 episodes, and co-hosts another show with 81-year old Filipa Vancodeus, the Julia Childs of Portugal – “a once in a lifetime experience!” When I arrive at her new apartment in Belem, I notice a patchwork blanket, half finished, in the couch. “It’s a present for Alice!” she cheers proudly, “the new-born baby girl of a friend of ours. I was going to buy a similar one but then I thought it would have much more meaning if I made it myself with all my love. But now she is already four months, so I’m a little late. Just like the Wonderland rabbit.”
And her closet? Well, I have no choice but to turn a blind eye. It’s all rockabilly, tropical and plaid, either handmade, or new. “[I go for] a mixture of the feminine and glamorous cuts of the 50s, with some of the rebellious side of rock ‘n roll and punk rock, and just a bit of contemporary stuff for topping,” she sums up. “The make-up and the hair are very important in my everyday style. Normally I start with the classic eyeliner and red lipstick. Then I do my hair, either with a top swirl, or a pompadour or a fake Betty Page bang. I really like full circle skirts, topped with a tied shirt on the waist line. With high heels or plimsolls, and a bandana, a flower or a bow in my hair.” Since the TV gig though, her sartorial choices have been somewhat compromised. “My relationship with food is too intense and passionate to be able to keep my weight balanced.” She put on 22 pounds. “I am lucky though that my figure does not change much. I rise and I reduce the clothes sizes, but the curves are at the same places. So, my closet is not divided between Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter, but between fatter and thinner.”
She adores the new neighborhood. “Maybe we can do a picture with the guards of the Presidential Palace!” she laughs. When we walk to the spot, a car slows and a blonde boy sticks his head out the window. He yells something in Portuguese, which I presume is a comment on Filipa’s outrageous outfit. A family of four is loitering outside the pink building, taking pictures of the deadpan men in uniform. But their attention soon averts to the sexy vixen in her red petticoat and Dr Martens boots. Before I know it, they shove their iPhones in my hands and I am taking their picture, hugging Filipa, shaking her hand and beaming from ear to ear. She’s that famous? “I never dreamed of become a mainstream figure,” says Filipa when she sees my astonished face. “I don’t know if I’m dealing with this the right way, but I’m trying. Even when my hair and I are in a bad mood. People treat me as if I am a faraway family member and when they see me, they speak as if they actually know me. It’s awkward but the least I can do is give them a smile, a kiss and a big thanks. And I really mean it.” Turns out that this anti-vintage woman with her scissors and spatulas is exactly the right person.