The Fashion Trail | Fashion Rio Reaffirms Its Raison-d’Etre

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — While Sao Paulo Fashion Week kicked off on Friday, the industry’s eyes have been on Brazil and its booming fashion sector for a few weeks already, specifically on Rio de Janeiro and its own designer showcase, Fashion Rio. The weeklong run of shows in the country’s second city traditionally precedes the higher-profile Sao Paulo collections. And in the first month of the new decade and with an increasingly competitive and crowded calendar vying for the attention of busy editors, the pressure was on for Fashion Rio to justify its existence.

Some voices have called for a consolidation between Sao Paulo Fashion Week and Fashion Rio. Others said that the fabled vacation and cruise destination should stick to what it does best, namely beach and casual sportswear. Even the event’s organizers, Luminosidade, signaled that it might be time for a refocusing: in a press conference held last fall in Paris, the organization’s president Paulo Borges promised to transform the week into a first tier platform where international designers would present their resort collections, a laudable if overly ambitious plan that, if it comes to fruition, may take years to implement.

Nonetheless, the real and positive news is that none of the drastic prognostications has, yet, come to pass. Instead, Fashion Rio wrapped up last week after one of its strongest seasons in years. In what seemed to be a concerted, silently agreed upon effort, the over two dozen designers that showed their Winter 2011/12 collections to an international audience proved that a radical organizational reinvention isn’t necessary to make a strong case for Fashion Rio’s continued importance. The overall message was that Rio de Janeiro is moving away from bikinis towards sophisticated sporstwear and doing it with unexpected self-assurance.

Among a motley (and admittedly uneven) assortment of shows, there were more than a few that would fit right in on the runways of Sao Paulo — and, in some cases, New York or London.

Logistically, Fashion Rio is already on par with these fashion capitals, with shows running on time and production values professionally high across the board. But a well-run week of fashion shows would matter little if what was presented didn’t measure up or have global relevance. Indeed, a few convincing trends prevailed at Pier Maua (a picturesque stretch of the city’s harbor where the shows take place) that are sure to reverberate on the international runways in the coming months.

To this observer, the biggest news from Fashion Rio were unequivocally bold prints. Strong fabric patterns were on display in a number of collections, most notably Márcia Queiroz, Alessa, Cantao and in the Pendleton-inspired guys-and-girls showing of British Colony. What made these prints fresh was their innovative application, particularly the way summery designs, even florals, were applied — and looked right — on warm, often layered fall-winter pieces.

Well-chosen prints were also a key factor in the success of the collection presented by designer Andrea Marques, perhaps the standout show of the week. The well-edited presentation worked on every level, offering a modern, chic and wearable women’s wardrobe that managed to be, all at once, reminiscent of the pre-1990s heyday of American sportswear, perfectly contemporary and somehow Brazilian in sensibility.

Ms. Marques’ collection delivered the definitive proof that, after this season, it will be hard to question Fashion Rio’s raison-d’etre. If anything, we may hope for a further qualitative and quantitative tightening of the schedule so that the event does not overlap with the Milan men’s shows like it did this season, to the chagrin of many international editors who had to leave one of the world’s most beautiful cities a few days early.

Suleman Anaya is a contributing editor at The Business of Fashion.