Nara Leão, the Muse of Bossa Nova

Bossa Nova is the music of my dream life. Happy, Calm, Beautiful, sometimes sexy and always classy. That’s how I want to live and when you live like that, people hear Bossa Nova when they see you coming down the street. You can play this video while you read this post to get the effect:

Unsurprisingly, Nara Leão, known as the Muse of Bossa Nova, had sophisticated understated style and more class than a little bit.

The babydoll dress with patent Mary Janes is typical of the 60s, but note she is not wearing neon psychadelic florals – not everybody in the 60s wanted to look like a walking acid trip!

Another sweet 60s ensemble. I love the bold exploded-scale ric-rac. The “statement neckline” is back in a big way lately, and the simpleness of the rest of the dress makes it enduring. I can’t think of a decade when this wouldn’t be stylish.

Look at that giant watch! Those high-waisted printed shorts! This looks like an outfit I’d see on somebody walking down Valencia street in 2011. Except her hair looks neat and she is not wearing a shit ton of feather accessories. Thankfully.

Ho. ly. Smokes. She is looking right through you. She is Nara Leão and she is not fucking around. She is the Chanel of Bossa Nova: simple light short sleeved sweater with black pants and a dainty-but-not-too-precious chain as the only accessory, not to mention the haircut.

Now instead of through you she is looking right into your heart. The almost-a-smile gets me every time. This chick knew how to wear a hat, further evidence below:

I like that this Pea Coat has extra wide-set buttons and the double-breast part goes up really high so that there aren’t really any lapels just a nice big collar. More like a band jacket than a pea coat but it looks like it’s made of wool and thick like a pea coat.

Collared shirt + ankle cigarette pants + flats = classy summer always.

Now she’s looking through… a window?

I want to travel back in time for this tank-top. I like that the stripes are wider than a lot of the stripey/nautical stuff that’s trendy right now. I also like the bold, high-contrasting colors — you know the designers know something about hue and value when you can tell that from a black and white photo.

I love both the nubby texture and the architectural feel of this coat. I want to say this was taken in the 60s, but really, who can tell? This woman’s style is so classic it could be any decade.

In the mid-sixties, Nara became disenchanted with Bossa Nova and began to sing political songs against the right-wing dictatorship that followed a military coup in 1964. I am always inspired by people who are able to rise to the challenges of their time. Sometimes, things happen that mean you can’t just sing music that is happy and calm and sexy anymore. Sometimes you have to sing about people getting dissapeared and being hungry. Her song Opinão is an enduring example of her protest music:

To be fair, my unsophisticated music brain can’t tell the difference between Bossa Nova and this besides the subject matter…

I also love that her shift in politics affected a shift in her style:

Jeans and a T-Shirt = Fuck You Mr. Dictator

Performing in a baseball T in front of a crystal chandelier. Get em.

So, ok, this woman to me does not look like the woman in every other picture on the internet that is supposed to be of Nara Leão, but it was captioned “Nara Leão” so here you go. Whoever she is, YES ON THIS OUTFIT.

Puffed sleeves and a deep-v. I’m pretty sure I saw a chick in this dress in the mission last night. This is obviously the 80s… by which time Nara had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and was creating music like mad with all the time she had left. She died in 1989 at 47 years old, rest her soul.

More eighties goodness. The shoulder pads on the jacket are so bad they’re good. Sometimes I like clothes just because they seem ridiculous and are therefore entertaining – the eighties are good for that. I love that her haircut is exactly, exactly the same and just as stylish as 20 years before.

This is the cover of Nara’s second-to-last album, released in 1986. White tuxedo jacket and red pumps!

The same look from a different angle on the cover of a compendium. I dig the geometric earrings.

This is Nara with Sylvia Telles, another Bossa Nova singer…

…and this is the cover of her final album, before she was killed in a car crash in 1966. I wonder if Nara’s 80s tuxedo look was a tribute to her?

And here is  Nara looking right at you.

Buy her greatest hits on iTunes. Seriously, what could be better than protest music that sounds like Bossa Nova? It reminds you that the struggle is beautiful sometimes.




About Carrie Leilam Love

i love words, babies, and shoes better than everything.


  1. Being a brazilian, I felt proud and a bit homesick to read this great post. Thank you for that.

    Just to clarify: Jose Sarney was not part of the military coup, he became president when the then elected president (1985) Tancredo Neves died. He was however the last president to be elected by the congress rather than by public vote.
    More on that:

    And last thing: the lady on the picture tagged as “Nara Leão” is actually the actress and singer Fernanda Couto, who played Nara on the musical of same name. 🙂

    • carrieleilamlove

      Thanks for the clarification Chrys! Goes to show you cant trust Wikipedia for historical accuracy. I’ll make the correction in the post and thanks for the ID on the actress who played Nara. Now it makes sense why it would be tagged with her name but not actually be her.


      • carrieleilamlove

        …or rather, you can only trust SOME wikipedia pages. i don’t remember which page i got the info on Sarney from, but it wasn’t the one you post above. thanks again!

  2. Very beautiful tribute, just because you talk in some parts, in
    way in which Nara (such as personal and personalized, liked to
    dressing and costuming), and its observation, in Blog on the details of it, so feminine and
    so unique!
    We are proud of (both to be Brazilian) and for being fans!

    Chrys Campos corrections are correct, however, the Sarney:

    Doormat of the dictatorship and the military coup, a member of the “Arena” party supported the dictatorship, then spoke:
    “I fully understand the man of government, the difficulties faced by the Honorable President of the Republic, Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva, having to break the law by marching to the establishment of emergency measures that hurt the democratic postulates (…) I know the thought of the Armed Forces of Brazil, his patriotism, I believe the high purposes and its permanent goals. ”

    As can be observed, Sarney distorts today purposely not only in history as the Portuguese language and tries to pass as their protests to the generals kneeling dictators. 😦

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

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