Brazilian trade show organizers are making changes to better show off the country’s design talent, and the result is an increase in attendance, especially in foreign buyers, that doesn’t look to be subsiding any time soon.

Graça Cabral, the organizer of the São Paulo Fashion Week, Latin America’s biggest fashion showcase, said a record 72,000 people turned out at last June’s SPFW, and with recent changes implemented at this January’s SPFW, she predicted that number would only go up. At the January event, organizers increased the physical space of the SPFW by 20 percent to give each designer his own showroom.

“Our innovation of putting in designer showrooms at the last SPFW allowed the [designers] to show their entire collections, not just their runway collections, and this gave buyers...a better chance to see and buy a wider range of fashion than they had in the past,”?Cabral said.?“While we plan to continue with our formula of holding the twice-yearly SPFW over a seven- to eight-day period, we plan to try to invite more and more designers to each SPFW and to give each of them a showroom to present their goods.”

Cabral said each SPFW has attracted more designers than the one before. Last June’s SPFW featured only 43 designers, for example, while 50 designers are scheduled for the upcoming show, June 16-22, featuring summer 2005 men’s and women’s ready-to-wear that runs the gamut from beach and casual looks to evening gowns.

Among the bigger names scheduled for the event are Alexandre Herchcovitch, famous for eveningwear and day looks that mix cultural references from around the world; Reinaldo Lourenço, who specializes in layered, or draped, unicolor eveningwear, and Lorenzo Merlino, who uses contrasting fabrics that pair well (for example, a short corduroy dress worn over a longer silk organza dress).

Cabral said although domestic buyers continue to account for 99 percent of the traffic at SPFW, foreign buyers, mostly from the United States, France and Britain, are beginning to notice the talent Brazil has to offer.

“Although the SPFW began eight years ago, it’s only been during the last three years that we began regularly getting repeat foreign buyers,” Cabral said.?“This is a sign that foreign buyers liked what they saw — fashion alternatives they can’t find at better-known fashion weeks — and are coming back for more. And these foreign buyers are spreading the word, which is why we expect the upcoming SPFW to attract even more foreign buyers.”Four of five foreign boutiques at the last SPFW have already confirmed they will be at the upcoming SPFW, and a number of other foreign buyers are also expected.

Those returning foreign buyers are Paris department store La Samaritaine; L’Eclaireur, a five-store Paris boutique; Onward Kashiyama’s Paris boutique, and Opening Ceremony, a boutique in New York’s SoHo.?Newcomers include London department store Harrods, New York boutique Patricia Field and French department store Le Bon Marché. New York’s Henri Bendel is returning after a few years’ absence. Selfridges, which showed up for the last SPFW, has yet to confirm its attendance.

Catherine Coppin, the buyer for La Samaritaine, said she is going to shop for an event based on Brazil that the French department store will stage between April and June of 2005.?The event will cover a 1,615-square-foot section of one floor and will feature designer jeans, Brazilian T-shirts sporting Portuguese logos or images, swimwear, shoes and jewelry.

“When I went to the SPFW for the first time in January on an exploratory visit, I realized La Samaritaine could do a Brazil event that allows our clients to buy a clothing souvenir from Brazil — to get a taste of that country — at an affordable price,” she said. “I’ll be coming back to the SPFW to buy for this event.?And the only clothes I’ll buy based on the product, not the price, will be designer jeans.”

She said at this SPFW, she’d be buying jeans from Zoomp, Renato Kherlakian’s brand, and Ellus from Nelson Alvarengo, perhaps Brazil’s two biggest names in quality designer jeans.

Coppin said she got her inspiration to put on the Brazil event, in part, because of Selfridges, which came to the last two SPFWs to buy for megaevent Brasil 40°, which was held this month. This event features more than 30 Brazilian designers, showcases the dynamism of the Brazilian culture and fills floors of Selfridges with Brazilian fashion, footwear, food, furniture, art, musical instruments and even performing musicians.

“Going to lesser-known fashion weeks, like the SPFW, gave us the excuse to explore a country in search of unknown [designers] with so refreshingly different a point of view, that finding them can make a whole trip worthwhile,” said Kit Li-Perry, Selfridges’ buying manager.?SPFW takes place in the massive concrete Bienal Cultural Center, a three-story, 258,000-square-foot building, designed by celebrated Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. In keeping with Niemeyer’s preference for reinforced-concrete curves, the space features long, wide curving ramps connecting the three floors, as well as four auditoriums with runways for designers to show their collections.?The bottom floor also has restaurants, fashion-book stores and food shops.?The top floor features individual showrooms for all the designers who are showing their collections.

The chic setting of the SPFW contrasts with the venues for Brazil’s two other big trade fairs, held in São Paulo once a year: Fenit/Fenatec, which features textiles for clothing and, to a lesser extent, upholstery, as well as lower-cost men’s and women’s casualwear, beachwear, athleticwear, underwear, socks and accessories; and the Couromoda, Latin America’s largest footwear trade show. Although SPFW takes part in the more affluent Southern Zone of São Paulo, both the Fenit/Fenatec and Couromoda take place in the more industrial Northern Zone, in the sprawling Anhembi Park complex.

Although clothing exhibitors account for around 70 percent of all the Fenit/Fenatec exhibitors, they only take up 30 percent of the physical space of the two Anhembi pavilions.

At past Fenit/Fenatec fairs, all the clothing exhibitors, whose exhibition area is separate from that of textiles, were grouped according to eight geographic Brazilian regions.?From now on, beginning at the next Fenit/Fenatec fair from June 29 to July 2, the clothing exhibitors will be grouped by apparel category.

“The Fenit/Fenatec organizers decided to change the format for exhibiting the clothing goods at the fair because the new format — grouping exhibitors by type of clothing, as opposed to region — allows buyers to more easily find what they’re looking for and compare prices,” said Ivo Chicuta, the press spokesman for the upcoming Fenit/Fenatec. “Organizers also believe that the increased facility of locating/price-comparing clothing will attract more exhibitors and buyers to the fair.”

Ana Cristina de Souza, a Fenit/Fenatec spokeswoman, said this increase should carry over to foreign buyers.

“The joint Fenit/Fenatec fair in June should attract at least as many, if not more, foreign buyers looking for alternative clothing and textiles,” said de Souza.?“This is, in part, because the São Paulo Fashion Week is increasingly drawing more foreign fashion buyers, and they, in turn, are spreading the word and attracting more foreign textile and clothing buyers, especially from South America and, to a lesser extent, North America and Europe.”The last Fenit/Fenatec fair drew 42,300 visitors, 1,000 of whom were foreign buyers.?Most of the foreign buyers were from South America (69 percent), but North Americans accounted for 13 percent of the traffic, Europeans accounted for 10 percent and buyers from Asia and Africa accounted for 8 percent.

There is also one smaller annual Fenit clothing fair, scheduled for early next year, and another small Fenatec fair planned for October 2004, although the dates haven’t been set.?

The 2004 Couromoda show, held in January, attracted an estimated 55,000 visitors to its 915 exhibition stands. Although most visitors were from Brazil and other countries in South America, 4 percent of all Couromoda visitors were foreign, and those numbers are only on the rise, from 1,730 in 2003 to 1,967 in 2004. The event?drew more than 200 American visitors, as well as buyers from 65 other countries, including Kuwait, Croatia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Couromoda organizers expect at least as high a foreign attendance at the next Couromoda, from Jan. 12-15, 2005. This is due in part to its outreach to these buyers, which includes an increased advertising budget for such things as a catalogue of their exhibitors and having a presence at foreign high-profile footwear shows, like GDS in Düsseldorf and, for the first time, Micam in Milan.

“The number of foreign buyers coming to the Couromoda is increasing each year, as are the number of countries the buyers come from,” said Ana Jussara Leite, Couromoda’s head of communications.?“This is because of the quality, price and the diversity of the footwear Brazil offers.”

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