When was the last time you saw buyers at an industry event who were not complaining about prices? If you happened to be in Brazil, it was last month, at the country's two biannual fashion events showing summer 2009 collections.
As usual, the upscale São Paulo Fashion Week was characterized by pricier, fashion-forward designs from 52 houses, while more mainstream Fashion Rio offered 55 brands' commercial wear at accessible prices.
But at both events, foreign buyers found prices palatable, even though the dollar has lost 25 percent of its value against the local currency, the real, since June 2007, making dollar-based Brazilian exports somewhat less competitive in America. It's all relative, though. Complaints have subsided because the depreciation has slowed considerably in recent months, stabilizing prices.
But even more important, since last year's show, the euro has skyrocketed against the dollar, making Brazilian apparel more price-competitive against euro-based European fashion in that market and in the Middle East. Also, some foreign buyers noted there is a growing demand for Brazilian labels.
SPFW and Fashion Rio, open to the public, drew the usual size of local and international crowds as the year-earlier editions. But at SPFW, the demographics of foreign retailers changed dramatically. There was a near absence of North and South American buyers and an abundance of Middle Easterners, just as numerous as the Europeans, mainly due to currency issues.
SPFW drew more than 100,000 visitors including 37 foreign buyers. Fashion Rio attracted nearly 90,000 attendees, with 98 foreign buyers from 27 countries. At both fairs, 10 to 15 percent of visitors were trade, organizers said.
In a change from SPFW's June 2007 event, which had 57 on-site showrooms, at this edition, organizers suspended the salon, which typically rings up $400 million per event. An expanded salon will reopen at next January's SPFW, in a bigger space either on-site or off, to accommodate the growing number of brands requesting space, organizers said.
Meanwhile, Fashion Rio expanded its on-site salon space to accommodate 98 designer showrooms, up from 82 at the year-earlier event. The larger number of showrooms generated a 5.5 percent increase in orders placed by domestic buyers (443 million reais, or $276 million), and a 16 percent increase in orders from foreign buyers ($16.3 million), organizers said.
Trend-wise, SPFW was focused on "metallicized apparel, jumpsuits and Latin-folk-inspired prints," said fashion consultant Lilian Pacce. "At Fashion Rio, the main trends were wide-strapped bikini tops, floral and abstract prints, and origami-inspired folds."
At SPFW, metallics included Osklen's knit dresses hot-laminated with gold and silver foil, Forum's gold silk dresses and Cavalera's shimmering green, tuxedo-style dresses.
Middle Eastern buyers were mainly drawn to Brazilian designers with eye-catching eveningwear, to accommodate the number of weddings and gala events, said Khaled Mekkawi, owner of Ginger & Lace, a Dubai boutique.
"At SPFW, I bought light-reflecting evening gowns and bikinis because Dubai women love the spotlight at parties and at the beach," said Mekkawi, citing Forum's gold silks and swimwear leader Cia. Marítima's leopard-print, bikinis with golden-chain straps or fasteners.
Karen Harries of Boutiqueye, representing Harvey Nichols in Riyadh and Sauce in Dubai, plans to suggest to her Persian Gulf clients Alexandre Herchcovitch's gold-sequined floral dresses "because they have a shimmering, value-added look."
Ramzi Tabiat, fashion director at Al Ostoura, said his clients, looking for partywear, prefer less flashy, eye-catching elegance, which is why he bought Iódice's draped, turquoise jersey dresses with twisted shoulder straps.
"It isn't cheap, but it's fresh and competitive with European brands," said Tabiat, adding that "high oil prices have given Kuwaitis the increased buying power to afford it."
Most European buyers showed a greater preference for casual-chic than for eveningwear. Pamela Shiffer's namesake London boutique will buy Iódice's pleated, pink, crepe de chine silk dresses and blouses because "they make enough of a fashion statement to not look outdated, are loose-fitting, and easy to wear for day or night," she said.
Maron Schaap, a consultant to Le Bon Marché in Paris, cited casual Japanese-inspired apparel of Osklen and Huis Clos for their "understated elegance; an uncluttered simplicity." For example, she pointed to Clos' lemon-yellow, cotton and silk summer dresses with origamilike folds and drapings and Osklen's A-line cotton dresses with stylized leaf prints resembling Japanese etchings.
Catherine Martin of Order & Progress also favored the casual-chic look "because Australian women like relaxed apparel with a crossover, day-night appeal." That's why she's buying Osklen's sleeveless, draped, textured-gray jersey dresses with a collar of knots.
A few European and Asian buyers, among them Martine Hadida of L'Eclaireur and Ahmed Dahbour of Salam, showed a preference for more fashion-forward apparel, like Patricia Viera's tulle, tunic dresses with leather appliqués in mosaic patterns.
"Leather is not a spring material, but Patricia Viera found a creative way to make it work for the season and for our fashion-forward clients," said Hadida.
Kentaro Shisido, a buyer for Isetan, praised Maria Bonita's dense-lace jumpsuits with knotted suspenders. He also liked Agua de Coco's leaf-print bikinis and its beach dress, which "give Japanese women the option of being more or less revealing."
Fashion Rio trends were evident in Lenny's double-strap, blue polkadot bikini top and Salinas' guava wide-strap bikini top, Cantão's summer dresses in abstract floral prints and Juliana Jabour's abstract sailboat print dress.
Foreign buyers at Fashion Rio were more price-conscious than those at SPFW because they typically deal in bigger volumes.
William Adams of eXM Global Inc., a U.S. distributor of swim- and fitnesswear, steered cleared of Lenny and Salinas, the event's pricier beachwear brands, to buy $400,000 worth of four less expensive labels, among them Enseada da Praia and Chica Brasil. The former offered snakeskin and checkered-print bikinis at $25 wholesale and the latter featured tropical bikinis with twist bandeau tops at $35.
"Brazilian prices have gone up by at least 20 percent since last year," said Adams. "We're buying more bikinis than in the past only because we've better targeted those clients who want quality fabric and Brazilian styling, which has become more in vogue in the U.S."
Marty Gonzalez, buyer for Vertigo, a chain of Venezuelan boutiques, is buying Lenny's soft Lycra spandex bikinis, which leave no marks ($55 wholesale price), as well as Mali, a lesser-known swim label with floral and tribal prints ($22) because "my clients need a variety of styles, qualities and prices."
Suzanne Jennerich, of Moóca, a Hamburg, Germany-based shop, liked Gisele Barbosa's multicolored, embroidered and beaded cotton summer dresses "because German women increasingly like the vibrant Brazilian look." But she added that the wholesale cost — $100 — "is a bit high, which means I'll have to reduce my margins a little to move them."
Dominique Mantese of Alchera, a distributor to 200 upscale Australian boutiques, plans to spend $1 million on five brands, among them Barbosa dresses, Coven's metallic-thread crocheted shift dresses ($250 wholesale) and Lucidez coral-reef-print, silk tunic dresses ($250).
"Australian boutiques will buy these three brands because they offer a broad range of price and design, Lucidez being more commercial than Coven and Gisele Barbosa, and because the Brazilian look is in here," said Mantese.
Sergio Obregón of Avanzati, a Valencia, Spain-based distributor to 570 upscale, European boutiques, plans to buy up to 9,000 pieces from Lucidez, because "the brand offers high-quality viscose and cotton summer dresses hard to find in Europe. The dresses' wholesale prices of 45 euros [$70] aren't cheap, but it's more than justified by the quality and design."
Trends at SPFW: Metallicized apparel.Jumpsuits Latin-folk-inspired prints.
Trends at Fashion Rio: Wide-strapped bikini tops. Strong floral and abstract prints. Origamilike folds.
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