Osklen Praia

Copy Cabana SS15

Sao Paulo and Rio Fashion Weeks

Alone among the BRIC countries it has created its own vibrant fashion industry; so much so that Sao Paulo – with the exception of Tokyo – was for many years probably the best fashion week one could attend outside the cities of Paris, Milan, London and New York – listed in order of importance in terms of ideas and influence. They are the Grand Slam of fashion – and, like in golf and tennis – their preeminence will never change.

Sao Paulo’s status, however, is clearly in decline. Indeed, after nearly 15 years coming to shows in Sao Paulo and Rio, one can only describe the recent seasons this April in Brazil as the least inventive in eons. It’s awkward as a guest in this country to be critical, but as a critic one has a duty to tell one’s friends and colleagues when something is going wrong.

 

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Lenny Niemeyer

 

That’s not to say there were some fine fashion moments at Lenny and Paula Raia and Alexandre Herchovitch; strong showings by the likes of Andrea Degreas, Osklen and above all Pedro Lourenco. And a couple of clever party girls shows by Lily Sarti and Pat’s Pat. Nor can one fault the staging, soundtracks, lighting, models and overall all presentation. Nor indeed the raw materials. Brazilian shows in my view not infrequently have finer fabrics than collections in NYC or London, though evidently not quite up to Milan or Paris.

Lenny, in particular, had a great show. A mix of sculptural shapes, gutsy hibiscus prints and clever extension of swimwear into a cruise collection, it deservedly won the biggest cheer of the 50 odd shows in the two cities. Her collection and show had all the polish of a Northern Hemisphere runway event, emboldened by oodles of Brazilian panache.

 

Alexandre Herchovic
Alexandre Herchovic

 

One also had to admire Paul Raia, whose ladylike display of subtle shapes, clever layering and poetic sensibility. Easily, Brazil’s best cut collection.

Alexandre Herchovitch – still South America’s most famous designer in the West – presented a charming series of Marilyn Monroe inspired clothes; from khaki collegiate parkas to preppy denim dusters they all looked great. And avoided the over conceptualization that sometimes takes over his collections in New York.

Oskar Metsavaht again found inspiration at home, in his case from the famed art foundation of Inhotim, spread over thousands of acres in Minas Gerais. This lead to a fine ecologically influenced chiffon fern print tunics and tops paired with funky boots. And a sense of Oskar stretching himself further than his beloved Ipanema.

For visitors from Europe, Pedro Lourenco’s dress for success collection aimed at the local market, felt like a smart distillation of his harder structural ideas he shows in Paris. Silvery spy coats and obi belts cocktails worn on a great series of wedges had plenty of pretty poise.

Pat’s Pat metallic leather looks and dainty brassieres and flippy skirts had great charm; while Lily Sarti’s sexy squaw suede cocktails and fluid jacquard pants had both a cool local vernacular and plenty of punch.

Pat Pat
Pat Pat

 

However, far too many other shows were hackneyed, party clothes and jeans lines of modest distinction.

Among foreign editors, it was generally agreed there is quite simply a dearth of new designers emerging in Brazil, and a dire lack of strong fashion concepts. Collections here are literally falling behind international rivals. Brazil has for many years imposed heavy taxes of luxury goods; indeed on imported fashion in general. So everyone from Chanel and Vuitton to H&M and Zara find this market a difficult one. While a emerging economy clearly needs to protect its fledgling industries from more powerful international competition, the long-term effect of trade barriers and import substitution is for local businesses to fall behind. That’s true for technology and heavy industry as much as for fashion.

Far too many shows in both cities looked like pastiches of Zara copies of European trends or Top Shop partnerships with hip London talent. It really shouldn’t be that way. Other creative sectors are still coming up with great ideas. Brazil’s architects – notably Marcio Kogan and Isay Weinfeld – create buildings of great merit, reflecting their country’s culture and topography admirably, continuing the rich legacy of Oscar Niemeyer. It’s footballers – albeit not artists – are a special expression of this countries unique energy and skill. Most of them ply their trade in Europe, guaranteeing that Brazil will enter the World Cup with by far the best squad.

Cultures can of course fall asleep. The Italian masters of film – like Fellini, Visconti, Pasolini and De Sica – have not been followed by a new generation. And in fashion, Milan has been obsessed with discovering the new Celtic talent emerging in London or the Asian school of designers from New York. Brazil can do a lot better. Perhaps by recognizing the country’s inherent link to vacation wear and focusing on cruise collections. Cruise is now the single largest season for major European brands. Word to the wise, in the next five weeks, Chanel, Dior and Vuitton will, respectively, stage cruise shows in Dubai, New York and Monaco.

Pedro Lourenco
Pedro Lourenco