Iguatemi has 17 high-end shopping centers around Brazil.

When Brazilian luxury shopping center developer Iguatemi marked its 45th anniversary in 2011, chief executive officer Carlos Jereissati Filho hired Annie Leibovitz to photograph an ad campaign in which well-known Brazilian artists, singers, musicians and models reveled in what appeared to be an after-hours club.

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Iguatemi’s 50th anniversary this year calls for a somewhat weightier approach. Jereissati Filho decided that a manifesto was needed to commemorate the occasion. Later this year, Iguatemi will present “Viver e Maravilhoso,” which roughly translates to “life is marvelous,” through a film and ad campaign.

“It conveys Iguatemi’s personality, DNA and innovative spirit,” Jereissati Filho said of the document. “In half a century, the brand transcended categorical definitions of the shopping space and captured the imagination of Brazilians.

“We thought about looking at our history, and we understand it’s very important to look forward and make a statement,” he said.

For Iguatemi Group, a collection of 17 strategically placed shopping centers, the 50th anniversary “is a very important moment,” Jereissati Filho said. “It’s not a common thing when a mall company continues to be a leader of the industry for so many years, especially when it built the first mall in the country.”

Jereissati Filho was a child when that mall, Iguatemi São Paulo, was built in 1966 by his father, Carlos Sr., and he spent time playing there.

“It’s amazing that Iguatemi is still the most important,” Jereissati Filho said. “It shows the spirit of innovation we’ve had for so many years. We’ve been able to continuously improve and make the mall very contemporary.”

“Carlos Jereissati is a great partner,” said Christian Louboutin. “We came to Brazil thanks to him and his organization. Iguatemi represents the essence of Brazil — a mix of style and culture, supported by an excellent team and family.”

Some other brands in the Iguatemi portfolio include Burberry, Gucci, Prada, Saint Laurent, Salvatore Ferragamo, Chanel, Versace, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels and Giorgio Armani, which was a pioneer among international brands opening a store in Brazil, when a unit bowed at Iguatemi São Paulo in 1998.

Political unrest continues as the Senate decided last week that the nation’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, accused of breaking budget laws, must step aside while impeachment hearings get under way. And Brazil’s economy is expected to contract nearly 4 percent this year after a similarly dismal 2015. Times are tough for retailers, although not necessarily the high-end brands that populate Iguatemi centers. Nonetheless, 404 retailers filed for court protection last year. With inflation and unemployment near 10 percent, the country’s economic woes are in sharp contrast to the high growth the country enjoyed for more than a decade and which served as a big draw for global retail.

International luxury brands, impressed by the incredible gross domestic product growth and eager to tap into sophisticated Brazilian consumers who were known to travel internationally and displayed a strong appetite for luxury brands, opened stores at Iguatemi centers.

“The mood is not as great as it was a decade ago,” Jereissati Filho said. “We recently had indications it’s starting to change. We had a political aspect of change and we’re starting to see a new cycle. We still have work to do in terms of the government, but it’s important when you see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re starting to see change with a political system that creates hope.”

Jereissati Filho said Iguatemi hasn’t exhausted its opportunities for building new shopping centers in Brazil. “Because of the economy, we’re developing a little less,” he said, “but as the economy goes back on track, Brazil has a lot of options. We still have opportunities for new developments. We have two projects in São Paulo that we haven’t built yet. We’re waiting for the economy to get a little better to launch them.” Besides Iguatemi São Paulo, the company’s other primary center in the city is JK Iguatemi São Paulo. “There’s also the countryside of Brazil,” Jereissati Filho said. “These are all the places where you can have malls.”

Jereissati pointed out that Iguatemi completed a 250,000-square-foot expansion at Iguatemi Porto Alegre.

“For us, for the next five years, we’re focused on Brazil,” Jereissati Filho said. “The industry is very fragmented. We would even consolidate before we went elsewhere [outside of Brazil]. We have a nice footprint and an advantage to continue to expand. There’s opportunities to acquire a competitor or new group of malls, especially when you’re a big player in the country.”

Iguatemi Group is owned by the Jereissati Group, which operates in commercial real estate, commodities and telecommunications. One of Brazil’s three largest companies, Jereissati Group had sales of 11.9 billion real or $3.39 billion in 2015.

Iguatemi has a formula for keeping its properties relevant. “We put many things together to add leisure, cinema, live theater and fitness centers,” Jereissati Filho said. “That creates very vibrant places. Today, the American malls are trying to have this combination.

“The relevant malls don’t fear e-commerce,” he added. “The ones that have no relevance don’t offer the lifestyle, meeting point, relevant tenants and all the excitement that goes on. More and more our malls are becoming very important to our cities. We bring cultural aspects, not only art exhibitions, but indoor and outdoor event spaces and special places for children.”

“Malls are not the most inspiring things in the world,” said Diane von Furstenberg, who has stores at Iguatemi São Paulo and JK Iguatemi. “[But] people hang out and meet each other and get married at Iguatemi malls. They’re not anonymous. They have the feeling of a European Plaza. The Jereissati family puts a lot of pride into the business.”

As the 50th anniversary celebration continues, Jereissati Filho will hold dinners at a Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-inspired glass house in São Paulo for international designers visiting Brazil. An art installation is scheduled for Iguatemi São Paulo this summer, and in September, Jereissati Filho and his sister, Erika, Iguatemi’s vice president of retail, will hold a dinner in Paris to celebrate with international partners. “Chanel, Dior, Bottega Veneta, Cartier — there are so many brands. It’s easier to meet them in Paris,” Jereissati Filho said.

The São Paulo Art Biennial will run from Sept. 10 to Dec. 11, and another installment of SP-Arte/Foto, will bow Aug. 20 at JK Iguatemi.

A lecture series with participants Eva Chen, Pat McGrath, Hamish Bowles and Donald Robertson is slated for Iguatemi São Paulo in October. Jereissati Filho said the talks will explore the connections between fashion, technology and art. “It’s about how they see the next 50 years,” he said. “We have to know what’s coming next.”

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