In Rio, swimwear is streetwear, says Jorge Grimberg, a trend specialist with Stylesight based in São Paulo. “It matters.” Little wonder, therefore, that during the recent Brazilian fashion weeks – Rio and São Paulo, which follow each other like a one-two punch and show both womenswear and menswear – swimwear played an oversized role. Of almost 60 lines on display, roughly half included something you could wear in, or quite near, the southern Atlantic. “Suit” doesn’t just mean workwear any more.
Like office attire, however, swimsuits in Brazil are as subject to trend as any jacket-and-trouser pairing, and the dominant message from the shows involved a celebration of classic Brazilian themes. Whether in menswear or womenswear, local brands were embracing trends that until recently might have been considered uncomfortably close to a gringo’s stereotype of the country: in addition to sun, beach and sex, nature themes, tribal looks and fruit prints were popular.
“Swimwear is simply what Brazil does best. Our beach brands sell the Brazilian lifestyle,” says Carol Althaller, a Rio native working with WGSN, a fashion trend analyst. “The world likes that aesthetic of ours, and it’s in the public eye now more than ever.”
International sales of Brazilian fashion may have been affected by the cost of production but the country’s shows still bring in dozens of foreign buyers and editors who pay close attention to the outfits you can wear underwater.
As to what they saw, the major Brazilian contribution to men’s swimming trunks has long been the sunga, the short, rectangular suit which resembles a Speedo. Previously limited largely to unselfconscious men on the Brazilian coastline, this style – or something close to it – received something of a global boost after Daniel Craig went similarly skimpy in his debut Bond film Casino Royale.
Thus, classic brand Blue Man, which opened Fashion Rio and has been dressing Ipanema’s tanned bodies for 40 years, put muted scenes of swimming fish and beached sunbathers on its sungas, while other looks involved the classic rectangular piece in white or lime green, with matching Havaianas, the superminimal plastic sandal that is as omnipresent on the sand here as coconuts.
Similarly ubiquitous was skate culture, with menswear label R.Groove putting catwalk models in Rio on skateboards, as well as in knee-length trunks covered either with a strip of solid orange or scenes of a sunset behind palm trees. Other models – some powering down the tiny catwalk with speed and skill – sported shorts that mixed oranges and blacks with tropical scenes, a trend Osklen employed as well.
The latter, one of few local brands that makes a big splash around the world and whose interpretation of Brazil often paints the country as a large South American version of Miami Beach, went all out for surf and dressed one model in wetsuit bottoms printed with clouds hovering over a light ocean blue. Other shorts came long, and covered in oranges, yellows, or, again, palm trees.
Finally, Auslander, the Rio brand famous for parties as well as clothes, opted for knee-length suits, either with flowers on black, or in the metallic gold much loved across the spectrum of Brazilian ready-to-wear.
As to why: “There’s a sense that [the designers] are betting on things that work,” says trendspotter Grimberg. “Remembering what made them successful in the first place seems smart.” It may even make things go, well, swimmingly.