Brazilians’ interest in luxury fashion brands is keen and growing, but nearly insurmountable barriers to entry continue to force their upscale purchases to take place abroad.

That’s among the findings of the World Luxury Index on Brazil released today and conducted in partnership with Luxury Society.

In an analysis of more than 20 million Google searches, the study found a 24 percent increase in searches for luxury brands last year, with apparel, accessories, watch, jewelry and beauty brands responsible for 28 — more than half — of the 50 “most-searched-for luxury brands” covered.

Automobiles accounted for just over a third — 17 — of the top 50 slots and were the fastest-growing sector with respect to online searches, according to Florent Bondoux, head of strategy and intelligence at the company. The remaining five brands were in the hotel and hospitality sector, fitting for a population that does so much of its buying outside its own borders.

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The market for luxury products inside Brazil last year was estimated at $11.94 billion, but 80 percent of luxury purchases made by Brazilians take place outside the country’s borders, according to Bondoux. That’s because products not sourced in Brazil or one of its partners in the Mercosur trade group — which also includes Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and since late last year Venezuela and Bolivia — carry hefty importation taxes and associated costs. On average, an imported product purchased in Brazil will cost 250 percent more than it would in the U.S. or France. A Porsche Carrera convertible worth $96,200 in the U.S. will sell for about $355,000 in Brazil, the report noted.

However, brands finding ways into the market are making significant progress. MAC Cosmetics, the third most-searched-for brand of the top 50 and the highest nonautomobile one, behind Audi and BMW, entered the Brazilian market in 2002 and operated 25 stores there last year.

Lacoste ranked 16th overall, first in the overarching category of “fashion brands” and second among apparel brands, behind Ralph Lauren and ahead of Armani. Consumer interest, as measured online, grew 78 percent with the brand’s expansion from 130 points of sale in 2007 to over 750 in 2011.

Apparel stands as a subcategory of the larger fashion category. Lacoste’s strong overall finish resulted from representation in multiple classifications of merchandise, including shoes, handbags and sunglasses.

“Lacoste’s products for Brazil are produced with the Mercosur group and it substantially expanded its retail network, including the operation of 80 of its own stores,” said Bondoux. “The most-searched-for product on Google is the brand’s classic French style polo shirt and, at about $100, it’s a strong introductory product.”

Other fashion and beauty brands among the top 50 were: Chanel, 8; Armani, 10; Omega, 12; Rolex, 15; Calvin Klein, 18; Dior, 19; Tag Heuer, 21; Ralph Lauren, 22; Hermès, 23; Gucci, 26; Louis Vuitton, 27; Lancôme, 28; Cartier, 31; Burberry, 32; Swarovski, 33; Make Up For Ever, 34; Prada, 37; Bulgari, 39; Breitling, 40; Céline, 41; Christian Louboutin, 44; Kenzo, 45; Clinique, 46; Dolce & Gabbana, 47, and Michael Kors, 50.

Overall in fashion, Lacoste, Calvin Klein and Chanel ranked first, second and third, while MAC, Chanel and Armani made up the top three in beauty. Omega, Rolex and Tag Heuer took the top spots for watches, while Swarovski, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier topped the jewelry category. Tiffany didn’t crack the top 50 overall. Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and Chanel rated win, place and show, respectively, in the handbag category.

“While retail sales forecasts are showing single-digit growth, 2012 was marked by the pace at which Brazilian consumers massively turned to online channels to stay on top of luxury trends,” Bondoux said. “Effectively harnessing such an online frenzy represents a key differentiating factor and growth accelerator for global luxury brands in Brazil.”

With demand for luxury high but supply low within Brazil’s borders, Brazilians are voracious consumers of luxury goods and travel extensively. David Sadigh, chief executive officer of Digital Luxury Group, said the firm estimates that nearly 1 million Brazilian tourists visit New York every year. “They are brand conscious, impulsive and much bigger spenders than the average international tourist visiting the Big Apple,” he said. “A strong presence in Brazil will be key for luxury and fashion brands willing to take advantage of this international clientele.”

Yet New York ranks second in Brazilian travel destinations in the Americas, behind Miami but ahead of Cancun, Mexico; Buenos Aires, and Orlando, Fla. According to Euromonitor, Brazilians rank first in per-capita spending among international visitors to New York.

The top European destinations, in order of preference, were Paris, Lisbon, London, Milan and Madrid.