A vintage photo of Coco Chanel.

RIO DE JANEIRO — São Paulo is playing host to Latin America’s largest-ever exhibition of 20th-century fashion, featuring 26 foreign designers — mostly French couturiers or those they inspired.<BR><BR>The exhibition, called...

RIO DE JANEIRO — São Paulo is playing host to Latin America’s largest-ever exhibition of 20th-century fashion, featuring 26 foreign designers — mostly French couturiers or those they inspired.

The exhibition, called Fashion Passion — 100 Years of Fashion, is expected to draw some 700,000 visitors, said Emilio Kalil, president of BrasilConnects Cultura, the organizers. It opened last week and runs through Dec. 5. 

Fashion Passion is being held at a concrete, dome-shaped hall called the Oca, in sprawling Ibirapuera park.  There are 11 separate pavilions inside the 108,000-square-foot, four-story hall, each housing a group of designers.

On display are 156 creations, some dating from the early 1900s, by Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristobal Balenciaga and Azzedine Alaïa, who was present at the opening.

Other creators include Emilio Pucci, Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Commes des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Yohji Yamamoto, Viktor & Rolf and Charles James, the only American designer on display.

Included are dresses that Gaultier made for Madonna in 1992-93; creations Dior made for Eva Peron; Pucci numbers for Marilyn Monroe from the Fifties, and Balenciaga’s outfits for Marlene Dietrich from 1957. 

One pavilion featured several top Brazilian designers, like Alexandre Herchcovitch, Reinaldo Lourenço and Ronaldo Fraga, whose on-display apparel was inspired by Brazilian themes. And, lest a visitor forget he or she is in the land of Rio, there’s a sampling of home-grown bikinis and designer jeans.

The exhibition also features 800 photos of fashionably dressed women, taken by Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Nick Knight, Guy Bourdin, Bruce Weber and others.

Corporate sponsors contributed $1 million of the $2 million cost to mount the show, with ticket sales — at about $3 a pop — expected to pay the remainder. BrasilConnects Cultura last put on an exhibition of 128 Picasso paintings and sculptures from Jan. 25 to July 4 in São Paulo and drew 920,000 visitors.

— Michael Kepp

This story first appeared in the September 20, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.