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Foreign buyers found styles and prices to their liking at Brazil’s two biannual fashion weeks and didn’t let the global financial crisis constrain purchases.
This story first appeared in the July 29, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In fact, lines at the more commercial Fashion Rio event registered an uptick in buying, a welcome development for the challenged apparel industry.
Many buyers said while Brazilian fashion is rarely a bargain, prices remained competitive with those in the U.S. and Europe, even as the local currency, the real, has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar and the euro.
Last month, the dollar gained 21 percent against the real since June 2008. However, it had lost 15 percent against the real since January — the dates of the most recent Brazilian fashion weeks. Meanwhile, the euro registered 8 percent gains and 10 percent losses during those respective periods. Valuations made dollar- and euro-based fashion exports cheaper and more competitive in the past 12 months, while devaluations had the opposite effect in the past six months.
The June editions of both events, open to the public, showed summer 2010 fashion and attracted a similar number of local and international buyers as in prior years.
São Paulo Fashion Week showcased 40 upscale designers in catwalk presentations and drew a crowd of 100,000, among them about 40 foreign buyers. Fashion Rio held runway shows for 29 designers, who, along with an additional 77 mid- to lower-price lines, showed in an on-site salon, attracting 90,000 visitors, with 97 foreign buyers from 28 countries. At both fairs, 5 percent of visitors were trade, organizers said.
SPFW designers who presented on the runways as well as fashion houses in off-site showrooms rang up an estimated 1.5 billion reais (or $770 million at current exchange), holding steady with the June 2008 edition. SPFW will feature an off-site salon at next January’s event to replace an on-site showroom space that had been suspended since June 2007.
Fashion Rio’s on-site salon’s 106 showrooms rung up a 4 percent increase in orders from domestic buyers totaling 461 million reais (or $236 million) and a 29 percent increase in orders from foreign buyers ($21 million), a sign they weren’t purchasing cautiously.
“Orders placed at Fashion Rio and sales estimates during SPFW show that Brazilian fashion mainly relies on domestic market sales and that the global economic crisis has not affected them in any relevant way,” said Gustavo Bernhoeft, an organizer of both events. “Strong foreign orders at Fashion Rio show that Brazil remains a viable alternative for buyers from abroad who want quality at competitive prices.”
Fashion consultant Gloria Kalil said that “trendwise, both fashion events showed similar tendencies, with both featuring the nude color, transparencies, short tops and dresses, fringes, sequins and, in particular, dressy beachwear.”
Among the looks at SPFW were Alexandre Herchcovitch’s nude chiffon dress with big flower petal details, Maria Bonita’s black linen spencers, Gloria Coelho’s short, silk organza and satin balloon dresses, and Agua de Coco’s dressy bikinis in multicolored prints.
At Fashion Rio, Walter Rodrigues showed a black transparent silk top over a white T-shirt, Alessa offered a dress made entirely of big multicolored sequins and Lenny showed a dressy, canary-yellow swimsuit with fringelike strips from neck to midriff.
In São Paulo, what most struck foreign buyers was how unique Brazilian fashion had become. Helen Lambert, a consultant for luxury department stores in the U.S., Europe and Asia, said that some SPFW designers “have that something special my clients want, especially for summer, the forte of Brazilian fashion.”
Maria Cardini, the fashion director of La Rinascente, Italy’s biggest and most upscale department store chain, agreed. “SPFW designers have evolved and now offer a wide range of singular styles, often at competitive prices,” she said.
Two German boutiques with very different clienteles came to the same conclusion. Andreas Murkudis, owner of five fashion-forward shops in Berlin, is buying Alexandre Herchcovitch’s oversize white latex T-shirt dresses with stylized arrow details. “These dresses are affordable, one of a kind and perfect for my clients, who tend to be thirtysomething artists or gallery owners and want something edgy,” said Murkudis.
Bernardo da Franca, owner of Fashion Clinic, an upscale Düsseldorf boutique, is purchasing Uma’s black polyester tank dresses with balloon bottoms. “It’s comfortable, not-too-pricy casualwear that the typical German woman likes because it’s not very showy,” he said.
Buyers from the Mideast sought eye-catching partywear. Elham Chegini, a buyer for the two Zai boutiques in Doha, Qatar, liked Isabela Capeto’s green and black seersucker A-line dresses made with Lurex metallic yarn, “because they are vibrant without being ostentatious.”
American buyers were also eyeing salable, vibrant, edgy clothes. Sarah Bronilla of Eva, a fashion-forward boutique in Manhattan’s Bowery neighborhood, liked Herchcovitch’s plasticized-silk multicolored crescent-print shift dresses, noting SPFW prices “are better than those in Europe.”
Jennifer Mankins, owner of Bird, a chain of three Brooklyn shops, was taken by the “riotous use of color and print” in Neon’s accordion-pleated shift dresses, featuring vibrant color block panels and beach-and-sky prints with appliquéd white birds.
“Neon fits my customers — independent young women who want to make a creative statement, not a brand statement,” said Mankins. “And Neon has prices similar to many New York designers.”
Eva and Bird have taken steps to stem the current sales slump. Eva is throwing cocktail parties and multimedia presentations featuring various designers, while Bird has tightened its inventory and is e-mailing new collections to regular clients.
Tsum, Moscow’s biggest department store, is taking more drastic steps: It slashed prices by 50 percent in June and July because of sagging fashion revenues. Still, Tsum buyer Raquel Michailov ordered a combined 20,000 to 40,000 euros ($28,100 to $56,200) worth of Huis Clos and Ellus, lines she hopes will attract new clients.
“Ellus’ beige silk chiffon A-line dresses with metal grommets and Huis Clos black cotton jumpsuits with side drapings are perfect for my twentysomething, fashion-forward clients and cheaper than European labels,” said Michailov. “Their detailing makes the difference.”
Bev Malik, buyer for the Neo luxury boutiques located within the worldwide chain of One&Only Resorts, found “the fresh take I was after for my sophisticated clients” in Osklen. She singled out the designer’s triple-layered, triple-hued, transparent tulle T-shirt dresses and his pleated chemise dresses with colorful digital prints of sequins.
Neo has boosted business by doing trunk shows, where clients can see exclusive pieces of new collections.
Meanwhile, Fashion Rio moved from the city’s marina to a less polished but more spacious dockside address.
Emmanouil Kardassis, whose Ensaio do Brasil boutiques in Athens and Mikonos carry 10 Brazilian brands, bought Cantão’s green viscose, floral-print dresses with small mirror detailing, citing the line as a previous strong seller.
Miquel Ferreira of Vivire Portugal, a buying agent for upscale Portuguese boutiques and department stores, cited Mareblu’s doubled-layered Lycra spandex sky-blue bikinis with Swarovski crystal ring fasteners ($40) and its thin draped Lycra bandeau bikinis with gold U-clasps ($38).
“Brazil makes the best quality, most stylish bikinis in the world and at good prices,” he said Ferreira. “That’s why I’m here.”
Some foreign buyers have been trying more practical ways to help sales rebound — but it’s been tough.
EXM Global, an American distributor of swim, fitness and casualwear, which bought Orattória denim skirts ($40) and jeans ($60), in January tried to lure retailers by giving them 90 days to pay for merchandise instead of requiring payment upon receipt. EXM owner Bill Adams has since altered the deal, however, to 30 days: “If stores, which are now buying closer to need, want the merchandise quicker, I need my money quicker.”
Pamela Shiffer held a two-day Champagne and chocolate event at her namesake London boutique in December and offered 10 percent discounts. Now, though, she has done away with both. “Now, I’m just trying to buy the right collection at the right price and turn over inventory as rapidly as possible,” she said.
To that end, Shiffer is buying Skunk’s ruffled A-line dresses with pleated bottoms ($90), Alessa’s bohemian silk chiffon sundresses with a candelabra print ($90) and polyester sun dresses with a digital print of her mother’s vintage dinnerware collection ($45).