Originally published in
July 2014
Why Brazil is fashion capital of the world right now.
What with pre-Olympics fervour and more than 300,000 millionaires in residence, the Brazilian fashion scene is flourishing. We tracked down the modern-day girls from Ipanema and the street style stars of the future behind the next big thing.

The fashion world is buzzing about Brazil as the next emerging market. And it’s easy to see why. The country’s reputation for carnival, beaches, the beautiful game and even more beautiful women is being bolstered by a strong economy (the seventh largest in the world) and as anticipation builds for the World Cup this summer and Rio 2016, its arts, culture and coffers are at tipping point. The Brazilian fashion industry hauls in US$63billion annually and major brands such as Osklen, Issa, Havaianas, Melissa and Carlos Miele sell well abroad. Brazil’s two major bi-annual catwalk events, São Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) and Fashion Rio are hailed as the world’s fifth largest and champion local talents including Vitorino Campos, Alexandre Herchovitch (who also shows in NYC), Gloria Coelho and Reinaldo Lourenço. Their son Pedro Lourenço is a rising star at PFW while Barbara Casasola and Lucas Nascimento fly the flag at LFW. And let’s not even get started on Brazil’s thoroughbred supers - Gisele Bündchen, Raquel Zimmermann, Alessandra Ambrosio, Izabel Goulart, Adriana Lima and co were born with Victoria's Secret wings.

Brazil’s strong domestic fashion scene, wealthy customer base (383,000 millionaires and counting, trumping both India and Russia) and reputation for body conscious women who love to shop, has all proved irresistible for global luxury brands. The likes of Burberry, Cartier, Valentino and Gucci have opened flagships in São Paulo’s high end malls in recent years and trade is brisk, despite the fact that Brazil’s complex tax laws can cause price tags to be double of those in the US or Europe. The elite’s desire for international goods outweighs the expense and the country’s luxury market is now worth £4.3bn. No wonder Karl Lagerfeld chose to bring Chanel’s The Little Black Jacket exhibition to São Paulo last October. His coterie included Diane Kruger, M.I.A. and Carine Roitfeld as well as his Brazilian ambassadors, Alice Dellal and Laura Neiva.

There are some powerful Brazilian women behind this success story who wield influence over fashion in Brazil and beyond. Alice Ferraz is one of the country’s most important PRs strategists. She set up her agency Ferraz Moda in 1996, which now represents over 60 brands, and added an advertising division in 2010. And in 2011 she launched F*Hits, Brazil’s first network for fashion bloggers. Naturally enough, she also has a blog of own. ‘It is a very important time for Brazilian fashion now,” she says. “We have creativity, we are sensitive to new movements and are very porous when it comes to receiving influences from outside. We are also a warm, open country and that contributes a lot to our success.’ Ferraz regularly brings bloggers to London Fashion Week and in 2012 she hosted a Brazilian designers’ pop-up at The Shop at Bluebird. ‘London has a mature landscape and competition is ferocious but now Brazilian designers are arriving and amazing the international market. The curve has been good so far.’

Monica Mendes is an equally important PR. Her eponymous communications firm, established over 20 years ago, represents the likes of Hermès, Tod’s and Dolce & Gabbana and hosts international journalists at SPFW. ‘Monica is the best Brazilian export,’ enthuses US Vogue’s Hamish Bowles. ‘She has worked tirelessly to bring the glamour and magic of Brazil to the world stage and has turned it into an important centre for style.’

And then there’s the four big It girl bloggers - Thassia Naves, Camila Coutinho, Lala Rudge and Helena Bordon. Bordon, whose mother Donata Meirelles was creative director of legendary São Paulo designer emporium Daslu, is a socialite, street style favourite and co-founder of fast fashion chain 284. Her blog mixes gossip and trends with her own looks worn to attend international fashion weeks (head to toe Prada, including those leg warmers, included). ‘Brazilian women are not afraid to be themselves but always look for the new must-have item. That’s what makes our street style so exciting,’ says Bordon. Her 70,000 Twitter followers agree.

Daslu’s main competitor is NK, opened by Natalie Klein in 1997. She curates with her personal preference for understatement in mind, stocking brands such as Chloé, Stella McCartney, Céline and 3.1 Phillip Lim in her exclusive, gilt-fronted store. Yet she never forgets local tastes. ‘I believe European fashion has been pleasing more Brazilian women by being more sensual. This is still the ultimate appeal,’ she told the Business of Fashion, which ranks her among its top 500 most powerful people in fashion. ‘Designers that follow this direction will certainly create desire among Brazil’s luxury consumers.’

But the Brazilian fashion crown belongs to 74-year-old Costanza Pascolato. Never knowingly seen without a perfect pompadour and dark shades, she helped run her family’s textile firm before moving into editorial in the 1970s. She established a consultancy in the 1980s working with jewellery giant H. Stern among others and has written three books with page-turning titles such as ‘The Essentials: What You Need to Know to Live with More Style’. Last year she joined the blogging and e-commerce universe where she reports on the Frow from Rio to Paris.

Barbara Casasola only felt confident launching her brand in London after receiving Pascolato’s blessings back home. ‘She is the number one; a super star; elegant, polite, genuine and sharp! She says what she thinks, there’s no second chances,’ says Casosola, whose collections echo the clean lines of Brazilian modernist architecture. On Brazil, Pascolato says: ‘Now we have some good brands with personality but we have to start improving our quality and competitiveness. We can’t do real luxury yet.’

Daniela Falcão, editor-in-chief of Vogue Brasil since 2005, concurs. ‘Brazilian fashion is energetic, sexy and lively. We do good resort collections and prints. But our brands need to be more professional to compete with the arrival of international brands,’ she says. Falcão can be praised for giving the magazine global relevance (Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier shoot covers) and enticing big brands to enter the market. ‘They all come to us to ask how to earn the heart of the Brazilian consumer.  She’s a woman who travels a lot, wears clothes that make her feel pretty and only adopts those trends that enhance her natural beauty.’ Maybe it’s no coincidence that for S/S 14, Roksanda Ilincic was inspired by the neo-Concretist works of artist Hélio Oiticica and Louis Vuitton’s sky-high headdresses were dark carnival incarnate. If Falcão has her way though, the current craze for midi and ankle length skirts won’t last. ‘Brazilians do not have the body to favour this shape.’ Fashion: consider yourself warned.