ONE HAUTE SAMBA

Byline: Jessica Kerwin

SAO PAULO — New York, London, Milan, Paris…Sao Paulo? Over the past few years, Australia, Russia, India and Iceland — where in mid-August shows will be staged in Reykjavik — have each promoted a “fashion week” of their own, vying for inclusion in the international calendar.
The global economy, ease of travel and, yes, the Internet have allowed fashion houses in the U.S. and Europe to conquer new terrain. But last week, the Brazilians had their chance to wow the international press, shepherded to their country’s version of 7th on Sixth — called “Morumbi Fashion” — by The Sunday Times’ wildly turned-out fashion director Isabella Blow, who lured sponsors like Swarovski to the event, as well.
It didn’t hurt matters that models Gisele Bundchen, Caroline Ribeiro, Ana Claudia, Renata and Mariana Weickert, all of whom hail from Brazil, turned up to walk for their fellow countrymen. But ever since trade regulations were lifted in Brazil, putting the country’s designers in direct competition with their European and American peers during the Nineties, the Brazilians have been gearing up to show off their unique talents. Visiting editors agreed that the week’s hands-down hero was quirky Alexandre Herchcovitch, whose signature line was innovative and intriguing, though retailers may be just as interested in a handful of midpriced lines that are well made, trendy and ready to do volume.
The Brazilian powerhouse Zoomp, in its 26th year, has made its way onto the racks at Maria Luisa in Paris and Bergdorf Goodman in New York since bringing Herchcovitch into its design room two years ago, and this season the company imported Carine Roitfeld to style the show. Zoomp’s clean, hard look included strong-shouldered T-shirts and low-riding, stonewashed jeans, but also wickedly tailored skirts and pants, making for a potent combination. Zapping, the company’s secondary line, which can be found in 10 freestanding shops and in over 200 boutiques in Brazil, offered something sweeter — bright T-shirts, tiny floral prints and loads of miniskirts.
Ellus, headed up by Nelson Alvarenga, went both ways. Cropped leather jackets and bat-winged dresses invoked the rollicking disco years, while pleated miniskirts and saccharine prints that were more “My Little Pony” than “My Sharona” kept things in check. The Fifties-inspired collection designer Marcelo Sommer put together for Sommer was another hit. He cut graphic floral prints, checks and stripes in girlish pleated skirts and sporty knits.
For his younger line, Triton, Tufi Duek sent out a range of tops emblazoned with team logos and tricked out with Harley-esque embellishments, from baseball T-shirts in cotton to halter tops in silk chiffon, each matched with HotPants, leggings, micro-minis or, more elegantly, denim wide-leg pants. Meanwhile, Duek took his signature line Forum, sold in the U.S. under the Tufi Duek label, in a more sophisticated direction, conjuring up images of Carmen Miranda with girlish frills and, more directly, by using a fabric printed with enlarged and abstracted photos of one of Miranda’s own sequin gowns.
Fause Haten, who showed his line in New York last season, layered bright chiffons in yellow, pink, purple and melon green, also calling the famous Miranda to mind — though his dresses were cut high in the back to show off sequined briefs — while Walter Rodrigues avoided the topic of his homeland and its icons entirely by showing minidresses cut from kimono fabrics and draped jersey gowns.
Gisele kicked off designer Carlos Miele’s M. Officer show, shaking her way down the runway in a silver mesh dress in time to the avant-garde Brazilian sounds of local hero Carlinhos Brown. M. Officer, which has retail prices that range from $45 to $65 for basics and from $110 to $380 for special orders, boasts 80 freestanding stores in Brazil, but Miele is itching to take his operation international. “I’m moving to London in January,” he said, though the line, which is feminine and sexy, will continue to be produced in Brazil. “I sleep well on airplanes.”
Miele won’t be the only Brazilian racking up air miles. Vlademar Iodice, whose spring collection under the Iodice label was full of dancing dresses and graphic prints, will open a showroom in London, too. Iodice, who has been in business for 15 years, with four flagship stores in Brazil, and whose collection can be found in over 450 boutiques, is looking forward to the challenge.
“Now that the market has opened up, I can be more creative. Brazilian designers have to be on the same level as those in the U.S. and Europe,” he said. “Now people say it’s cool to be Brazilian.”
Though Sao Paulo’s designers are anxious to prove that their country’s fashion doesn’t revolve around swimwear, Brazilian bikinis have always been cool. Amir Slama’s line Rosa Cha can be found worldwide (his frilly spring collection was inspired by none other than Carmen Miranda), while other lines like Cia Maritima, which boasts some of the best-made bikinis cut in some of the most interesting fabrics around, or Rygy are waiting to be discovered. Blue Man president David Azulay is also interested in shipping his bikinis to the U.S. as he had done in the Seventies and Eighties — just as long as no one tells him to make the cut more modest.
“Is international interest in Brazil more than just a fad?” was the question scores of Brazilian TV and print reporters covering the week’s events continually posed to their counterparts from French Vogue, British Vogue, French Elle, Interview, Visionaire, I/D and The New Yorker, who were treated like royalty throughout the week. Morumbi Fashion was inaugurated in 1996, and next week another set of shows will commence in rival city Rio de Janeiro. But courting the international press is a tricky gambit. After each magazine does its Brazil story, retailers are the ones who will have the final say about a schedule that would lead the fashion pack to Sao Paulo — or to Rio — before New York, London, Milan and Paris.

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