February 3, 2012 9:49 pm

An awful lot of fashion in Brazil

Does the country really need two separate fashion weeks?

If France and Italy, the world’s fashion capitals, are content with one big ready-to-wear fashion week, does Brazil really need two? Yes, the country boasts the world’s sixth-largest economy, a growing and appetising consumer market and great tourist appeal, but is there so much going on style-wise that the world requires both Fashion Rio and São Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW), with a mere seven days separating the two? As the cities hosted autumn/winter shows late last month, it was clear that the answer depends on your perspective.

If the goal is to attract international attention and break Brazilian brands into the space occupied by major European players, then the answer is no: two events divide and confuse, and almost no journalist or editor takes the time to attend both. Indeed, most arrive catwalk-side without knowing which is the “real” fashion week and what brands, if any, are available for sale in their countries. At the moment, only a few Brazilian brands have any real presence abroad, (Pedro Lourenço, Osklen and Alexandre Herchcovitch) otherwise, 95 per cent of the sales of brands on show here take place in Brazil.

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If, however, the goal is to fortify local loyalty for Brazilian brands against the arrival of names such as Prada, and to “develop a culture of fashion” in the country, as Paulo Borges, creative director of both Rio and São Paulo fashion weeks, says, the rationale makes more sense. Though it’s not clear whether any of the organisers or designers involved in either fashion week have weighed the issues.

Rio, for example, cannot be said to have anything even resembling a winter. So, on an aesthetic level, you could make an argument for a division: Rio could become the centre for “Brazilian” beach lifestyle choices, while São Paulo could represent a more metropolitan world where people actually own coats. But in practice it doesn’t work this way. Osklen, the Rio brand that is one of the most associated with the beach lifestyle, shows at SPFW, as do most of the big names. Its shops are full of T-shirts and beachwear developed from last season’s show of whites, golds and African influences. This time around it turned to Rio’s connection with nature, dressing its models as futuristic eco-warriors, alternating between military green and ultra-bright floral prints, platform boots and aggressive blues as well as oranges that recalled 1990s rave culture.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Herchcovitch had two shows in São Paulo and another denim-based line that showed in Rio. Surprisingly, this impressed the most, with its dirty sea-coloured camouflage prints, paint-splattered denim shirts and the odd surfboard. Then there is Pedro Lourenço who, at the age of 21, has clearly surpassed Herchcovitch as the Brazilian designer turning most heads on the international scene – yet he seems to want little to do with SPFW, showing only his “pre-fall” collection there to local press (he shows his main collection in Paris).

Neon at SPFW

Lourenço used large prints of glaciers, mountains and deserts on dresses and sleeveless shells with a colour palette of frostbitten blues, blacks and whites, all inspired not by Brazil but neighbouring Chile’s Atacama desert.

“I don’t think I need to be continually turning out prints of parrots or banana leaves to look Brazilian,” he told local press, reflecting a commonly heard annoyance from designers whose international image is often confined to Ipanema beach. Nevertheless, one of the best-received pieces from his Resort collection, now on sale at Barney’s, carries a print of a parrot – and, at SPFW, upstart brand Neon engaged Brazilian stereotypes in its use of Brazil’s decades-old Tropicália art movement, putting one model in a Carmen Miranda-style banana-coloured hat.

By contrast, in Rio, Coven stole the shows with a knitwear collection inspired by Guatemalan Mayan culture, with beige, brown and pink stamped with pre-Columbian prints or masks. The sophisticated yet playful prints of the label Printing managed to fit right into its space and time. But for all the originality of a Pedro Lourenço or Coven, no one is arguing they have the sophistication or brand power of a Jil Sander or Balenciaga and, paradoxically, there is little price differential between local and foreign names. So, as the world globalises, they may have a fight on their hands.

Perhaps in recognition of this, Rio and São Paulo have been in talks to “converge and strategise their respective fashion weeks to avoid competitive redundancy”. So far, however, no action has been taken as ultimately neither side wants to cede its role to the other. Thus, instead of being greater than the sum of their parts, the fashion weeks of Rio and São Paulo add up to ... well, just not enough.

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