SAO PAULO — What’s good news for the local currency has made Brazilian fashion more expensive for international retailers.
Price competition was a thorny issue at Brazil’s two main fashion events for the fall season. Many foreign buyers carped about the upscale São Paulo Fashion Week not being competitive — perhaps one reason far more of them visited the more mainstream Fashion Rio.
Still, at both of last month’s events, retailers saw striking styles that many said justified their prices. At Fashion Rio, on- and off-site salons registered big upticks in buying in an apparel industry rebounding strongly from the global economic downturn.
Although Brazilian fashion is rarely a bargain, how competitive prices are compared with those in the U.S. and Europe depends on whether the local currency, the real, has lost or gained against the dollar and the euro.
In January, the real had gained 9.5 percent against the dollar since June and gained 28.7 percent against it since January 2009 — the dates of the two prior Brazilian fashion weeks. Meanwhile, the real registered gains of 7.5 percent and 14.6 percent against the euro during those respective periods. And those valuations have made dollar- and euro-based fashion exports more expensive.
The January editions of both events are open to the public, which makes up 95 percent of attendance. While overall attendance was similar to recent past fashion weeks, domestic buyer turnout increased dramatically at Fashion Rio and foreign buyers were scarcer than usual at SPFW.
SPFW drew 75,000 visitors, with only 17 foreign buyers, as opposed to the three dozen or so retailers from abroad in past editions. Fashion Rio attracted 85,000 attendees and the on- and off-site salons doing business during the event attracted 55 foreign buyers, a turnout similar to prior editions.
SPFW organizers said domestic sales were strong. At recent past events, designers who presented on São Paulo runways or showed at off-site showrooms and salons typically rang up an estimated 1.5 billion reais, or $833 million, in orders.
This season, more than most, many domestic and foreign buyers at SPFW shunned the runway shows of established designers and instead visited off-site venues where fledgling designers, as well as those featured at Fashion Rio, offered more palatable prices. SPFW organizers discontinued their own on-site salon in June 2007, but may reopen an off-site showroom in June.
“During SPFW, business was up because off-site salons were more numerous and more organized than in the past, allowing buyers to do one-stop shopping to replenish depleted stocks,” said Amir Slama, administrative director of Salon Casamoda, an off-site salon carrying 44 labels, which rang up 50 million reais, or $27.7 million, during SPFW — 25 percent more than when it opened last November.
Since June, Fashion Rio has featured an on-site salon, Rio-à-Porter, run by the organizers of Fashion Rio, and a simultaneous off-site salon, Fashion Business, run by a separate organization. The two salons host different exhibitors and together have more than doubled the number of vendors and greatly increased sales during Fashion Rio, according to officials of both salons.
Rio-à-Porter’s 169 exhibitors rang up 40 percent more orders from domestic buyers totaling 526 million reais, or $292 million, and 17 percent more from foreign buyers, or $18.5 million.
Fashion Business featured 170 exhibitors and registered 46 percent more orders from Brazilian buyers at 550 million reais, or $277 million, and a 14 percent increase from foreigners, or $18 million.
“Rio-à-Porter registered an increase because the Brazilian and, to a lesser extent, the global fashion markets are in better economic shape than they were in January 2009,” said João Paulo Alcantara, a salon organizer. “One reason for increased domestic orders is there were 450 local buyers, more than double the 200 who came in January 2009.”
Fashion consultant Gloria Kalil said that, in terms of trends, the winter collections of the 36 SPFW designers and the 27 Fashion Rio stylists featured very different tendencies. “SPFW, with a larger variety of trends, featured architectural designs, short pants and tights or leggings,” she said. “Fashion Rio offered embroideries, ruffles and pointed-sleeve jackets.”
Among the looks at SPFW were Gloria Coelho’s nude-colored dresses made of rigid layers of satin ribbons and Osklen’s rigid sleeveless coats; Triton’s wool tweed, above-ankle pants and Marcia Garcia’s wool below-knee balloon pants, and Iódice’s sequined black leggings and Carlota Joakina’s arabesque-print tights.
Fashion Rio featured Cantão’s open cardigans embroidered with gold and silver sequins and small golden chains and Coven’s gray knit dresses with embroidered silver sequins and crystal chains; Maria Bonita Extra’s short dresses with big ruffles; Juliana Jabour’s ruffled, pointed-shoulder satin jackets, and Patricia Viera’s black suede, pointed-shoulder, studded-sleeve blazers.
Christina Panagiotidou of Yaco Clothes, an Athens-based distributor for Greek and Cypriot retailers, said prices at SPFW were prohibitive, despite innovative styling.
“Greek retailers prefer buying big-name European brands to established São Paulo labels with similar prices but unfamiliar names,” said Panagiotidou. “This is truer than ever now, as the recession has caused Greek boutiques and their clients to clamor for lower prices.”
Sabine Alaimia, owner of Doce de Limão, a concept boutique in Marseilles, France, agreed. “If my clients have to pay 500 euros or more for a São Paulo designer, they would rather buy Prada or Miu Miu for the same price,” she said. “Still, some big-name SPFW designers were so distinctive that I’m buying 10 pieces to see how they sell.”
She picked up Reinaldo Lourenço’s slit silk dresses because they are “unique but simple, as well as elegant and sexy, even if they are a bit pricy.”
At SPFW, foreign buyers most frequently praised fashion-forward Alexandre Herchcovitch and Osklen.
Jason Lee Coates, owner of Valleydez, an upscale Dubai boutique, raved about Herchcovitch’s Russian-folkwear-inspired collection, which he said “had Middle Eastern references that my clients like.” He said Osklen, “who pushes the boundaries of chic sportswear, had a sculptured look that will translate well for my customers.”
“Herchcovitch’s crystal and bronze sequin-encrusted silk shirts with a mosaic tile print and his black mosaic print harem pants have an urban nomadic look that will attract wealthy, middle-aged Arab clients looking for glittery, one-of-a-kind party wear,” he continued. “I’m also buying Osklen’s dresses — the multitiered architectural shoulders look Frank Gehry inspired and allow women to make a powerful statement.”
Anne-Marie Garganis, director of Whistles, four upmarket Adelaide boutiques, also cited Herchcovitch and Osklen. She will buy Herchcovitch’s tights and wedge-heeled, brass-studded black boots, because they’re “fashion-forward, mix-and-match apparel. His tights can be worn with more subdued tops.”
She added that “Brazilian apparel has become more fashionable, as has Brazil — especially after it was chosen to host the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympic Games.”
Frederic Dechnik, founding partner of The Webster, a high-end boutique in Miami, also admitted, “Both I and my clients have become more Brazil-conscious because of the next World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. This, along with the sexy and modern look of Brazilian fashion, is why I’ve come to SPFW for the first time.”
He’s buying Osklen’s structured cocktail dresses to balance the “higher-priced, edgy pieces I carry from Balmain, Balenciaga and Alaïa.”
He’s also buying Forum’s sleeveless Neoprene dresses and miniskirts “because they have an austere, sophisticated look that’s hard to find.”
Hirohito Suzuki, a buyer for H3O, a Tokyo-based distributor to high-end Japanese boutiques and department stores, bought SPFW designer Cavalera’s cotton jersey tops with prints of eagle heads on a black background, “because their dark, intense look is perfect for young Japanese bar-hoppers.”
Buyers who visited off-site showrooms to see more affordable designers without runway shows found lots of options.
At one such showroom, Suzuki picked up metallic-elastic green bandage dresses and angular, fringed, camouflage-print jackets at Coven, a Fashion Rio designer.
“Coven’s collection has a unique and feminine military look that appeals to 25- to 35-year-old Japanese women, who are becoming more and more fashion-forward,” Suzuki said. “They want an edgy, day-night alternative to fancy eveningwear and chic casualwear.”
Courtney Rotolo, a buyer for the American Rag chain, bought strapped and corseted minidresses with digital flower prints from Filhas de Gaia, a Fashion Rio off-site designer, calling the dresses “perfect for edgy, day-into-night [wear].”
At an off-site salon, Natalie Lacroix, a buyer for the Franck et Fils luxury department store in Paris, bought open-back silk-chiffon cocktail dresses from fledgling São Paulo designer Carina Duek. Lacroix said they’re “elegant, sexy, simple — and not too expensive.”
At both fairs, most foreign buyers said instead of slashing prices in their stores, they were trying to buy more selectively.
At Fashion Rio, Arturo Perez, owner of Grupo STB, a distributor in Spain, said, “Because wholesale fashion volume fell 40 percent in Spain in 2009, I shopped with an eye on price and found sophisticated, low-cost, tricot jackets from Redley [30 euros to 40 euros, or $40 to $55, wholesale].”
Daniela Araújo, a Lisbon-based European distributor, bought samples of Alessa’s multicolored satin tops with digital prints of vintage LP records and sequin detailing (128 euros, or $173, wholesale). “The price was a bit high, but my customers will pay it because it’s an original print,” she said.
Sales director Nastassia Siqueira of Toucan Boutique, a Washington shop that carries only Brazilian brands, liked Eclectic’s sheer silk cocktail dresses with ruffled sleeves ($67 wholesale) for the “good prices on innovative silk dresses.”
Erica Kiang of Babel Fair, a New York shop, liked Maria Bonita Extra’s pink, purple and gold Lurex dresses with black mesh ($143 wholesale) because “they have the edgy look my young customers shopping for party dresses like and can afford.”
Howard Rackmil, owner of two Worlds Apart shops in Lexington, Ky., bought Brasil Social Chic’s paint-flicked print cotton dresses ($55 wholesale). “They are inexpensive and contemporary, and we can create a story line for them: They are made by young men in one of Rio’s biggest shantytowns.”
Khaled Mekkawi, owner of the upscale Mosaic boutiques in Beirut and Dubai, bought Diva Couture’s purple cotton evening dresses with ruffled shearling for $90 wholesale. “Although our clients usually like more glittery party wear, the simplicity of this dress gives us a good product mix at a really good price.”
Mekkawi also bought Lasso necklaces ($23 wholesale), made with 100 thick cotton strands of varying lengths that make it drape. “These necklaces are simple, colorful, original and very light on the neck,” he said. “They’ll sell like crazy.”