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São Paulo: Commercial Meets Creative

SAO PAULO — The Brazilian designers showcased at the recent São Paulo Fashion Week offered buyers fresh fashion alternatives to global trends. <BR><BR>This twice-annual event, whose latest edition in June drew a near-record 70,000 visitors,...

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SAO PAULO — The Brazilian designers showcased at the recent São Paulo Fashion Week offered buyers fresh fashion alternatives to global trends.

This twice-annual event, whose latest edition in June drew a near-record 70,000 visitors, featured the 2005 summer collections of 48 designers.

Although the Brazilian economy, flat for the last three years, only began to rekindle recently, many designers opted not to play it safe. While a few offered commercial fare, more took the creative route and some went in daring new directions, buyers and other visitors said.

“This SPFW offered huge variety, from the very commercial to the very creative and noncommercial, with most designers striking a nice balance between the two,” said Peter Cullen, a merchandising director of EuroMax, a Canadian importer and distributor of five Brazilian designers, among them Iodice, Alphorria and Vide Bula.

Cullen plans to double imports to 100,000 pieces annually from Brazil by next year. “This makes the SPFW perhaps the most forward-looking fashion week in the world right now,’’ he said. “And, as the SPFW is the world’s first fashion week to show summer 2005 collections, it’s in perfect calendar position to trailblaze trends.”

Brazilian fashion consultant Gloria Kalil agreed. “Many Brazilian designers decided, despite an unfavorable economy, not to bow to commercial tastes and instead infused their collections with creativity,” she said.

Among the top Brazilians were Alexandre Herchcovitch, Fause Haten, Reinaldo Lourenço, Lino Villaventura and Forum, the signature line of designer Tufi Duek.

Other ready-to-wear labels included Patachou, Jum Nakao, Zoomp, Zapping, André Lima, Uma, Lorenzo Merlino, Gloria Coelho, Ellus, Triton, Iodice, Osklen, Isabela Capeto, Vide Bula, Alphorria and Spain’s Custo Barcelona, as well as eight beachwear makers headed by Rosa Chá, Brazil’s biggest beach brand.

Jum Nakao made perhaps the loftiest creative stretch. His show featured paper doll- and Victorian era-inspired white paper dresses, bodices, corsets and hoop petticoats. Models in black leotards and black plastic wigs ended the show by simultaneously ripping up their outfits on the runway.

“Nakao, who normally makes experimental, delicate, feminine apparel, this time around made a fashion statement instead of showing a fashion collection,” Kalil said. “He was saying that fashion is made of dreams as well as clothes, and, in the end, is here today and gone tomorrow.” Perhaps, but never at retail.

Romanticism was the major theme of the week, with designer outfits full of small ruffles, bow-tied ribbons, small pleats and light colors. For example, Herchcovitch presented a Russian doll-inspired collection with lots of hooded tops, a big mix of prints, pleats and colors; Ronaldo Fraga showed a folkloric, childlike collection with a Brazilian pop-music theme, and Lourenço deconstructed the tuxedo into women’s suits and asymmetric long-sleeved shirts. Zapping, the secondary line of Zoomp, offered young, fun ensembles inspired by trashy, Chinese streetwear imports, such as a loud, Chinese floral-print torero (bullfighter) jacket worn over a cotton bikini with the same floral print, and tiny, red paper umbrellas in the model’s hair.

“While Brazilian designers have traditionally been influenced by European and Japanese fashion, some of them, like Nakao, Fraga and to some extent, Herchcovitch, are trying to be more personal — more artistically expressive creators of a new vocabulary rather than interpreters of someone else’s,” said Armand Hadida, owner of L’Eclaireur, a six-store Paris chain that features less-mainstream brands such as Carpe Diem and Haute of Italy; Paul Harnden of England, and Carol Christian Poell of Austria.

Many of the foreign buyers were fond of Patachou por Tereza Santos, a more commercial knitwear maker that experimented with creative fabric mixes. Santos’ collection combined heavier and lighter knits, as well as silk and georgette crepe.

Euromax is developing a market in Canada for Patachou, which is also one of four Brazilian designer labels represented by Diptrics, an importer-distributor of young high-fashion brands for Japanese-based stores, including United Arrows and Isetan.

“Patachou has gone in new directions, like a sexy, negligee-shaped georgette dress, whose light, feminine look will please our Japanese clients,” said Diptrics buyer Robb Young, who also was impressed with SPFW newcomer Neon, a maker of avant-garde beachwear and casualwear.

Opening Ceremony, a boutique in New York’s SoHo, was buying 500 pieces — a mix of Neon’s flashy-print bikinis, whose tops can double as fashion tops; Patachou’s short, bustle silk dresses with floral prints, silk harem pants and two-tone, silk-lace, layered tunic dresses; Herchcovitch’s hooded, bell-shaped dresses with floral prints and ruche-pleated denim jumpsuits, shorts and skirts, and Ellus’ higher-priced beaded and embroidered silk dresses.

“We are buying Brazilianwear that goes against the Brazilian stereotype of scanty bikinis, sexy denims and funny T-shirts, and are instead opting for apparel that makes a fashion statement while still being commercial,” said Opening Ceremony co-owner Humberto Leon. 

Venezuelan Carmelo Arellano, whose Mosaiko multibrand stores are located in Caracas’ three biggest shopping malls, planned to buy Iodice’s one-shoulder, stretch, floral-print tank tops and Zapping’s ensembles.

“Because most Caracas boutiques feature local labels, we wanted to offer new, fun brands,” Arellano said. “Since European and U.S. brands are too expensive and many U.S. houses are too serious, we turned to Brazil for fresh brands at prices 50 percent cheaper than in Europe and 30 percent cheaper than in the U.S.”

While buyers from other South American countries, the U.S., Canada and Japan liked designers taking new directions, most of the European buyers were focused on more commercial fare.   

Among the foreign buyers, the French were particularly represented, partly because 2005 has been declared the “Year of Brazil” in France, and all things Brazilian, including fashion, will be celebrated. This year is France’s “Year of China.”

Between next April and June, Paris department store La Samaritaine will stage an event featuring Brazilian jeans, T-shirts with phrases written in Portuguese, swimwear, shoes and jewelry.

A group of La Samaritaine buyers came to SPFW to order about 200 pairs of jeans for the event, mainly from Ellus and Clube Chocolate, a multibrand boutique here that wholesales its own jeans and tops label.

“This most recent Ellus collection features chic, slim-fitting black denim jeans with a Dior-like feel that will go over well with our clients, who are always looking for something sexy,” said La Samaritaine buyer Boris Denoual. “Clube Chocolate offers inventive details, like buttons with cup-of-hot-chocolate logos, and large, colored belt loops that should appeal to clients looking for jeans with a slightly new wrinkle.”

Pascal Reveau, buyer for Onward Kashiyama’s Paris boutique, also is buying Ellus because of what he calls “its sexy cut and quality fabric.” But he is looking for more original apparel to sell for the “Year of Brazil,” and praised Patachou and Fause Haten. Haten’s collection mixed Brazilian and Middle Eastern styles, such as long evening dresses, skirts and tops with gold embroidery and ruffles and gold-embroidered jeans.

Lounge, a Monte Carlo boutique for young women, and Trends Monte Carlo, with two shops — one each targeting younger and older women — arrived looking for new brands, if not original looks.

“We came here to buy Ellus and Clube Chocolate jeans, not just because of their interesting cuts and detailing, but, even more important, because the freshness of their names gives our clients an alternative to [better-known] brands like Diesel and Replay,” said Marie-Ange Amirault, a buyer for Lounge. “We’re also buying Cia. Maritima beachwear, whose bottoms have one print design, like polkadots, and tops that have a contrasting print, like stripes — this appeals to our clients who aren’t looking for daring new direction, but more of a new twist on an old formula.”

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