SÃO PAULO, Brazil — At just over 387,500 square feet sprawled across four levels with over 200 stores, seven restaurants, a state- of-the-art cinema and public art on display, the sleek, light-filled JK Iguatemi in São Paulo is a stunning example of Brazil’s powerful mall culture.
During its opening weekend in July 2012, some 70,000 people visited the mall to witness the South American debuts of Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, Lanvin, Miu Miu, Goyard and more, mixed in with Brazilian labels such as Osklen, Carlos Miele and Schutz.
For Carlos Jereissati Filho, the stylish and well-spoken 42-year-old CEO and president of Iguatemi Group, the shopping mall developer that also oversees 12 other malls in the country, JK Iguatemi is the culmination of two decades of tirelessly working to bring the best luxury brands from around the world to Brazil.
Jereissati Filho can’t remember a time when he wasn’t immersed in the world of shopping. As the son of Brazilian business magnate Carlos Jereissati Sr., Jereissati Filho spent his childhood playing in the Iguatemi São Paulo shopping centre — Brazil’s first mall — which was owned by his family.
“I was born in this mall business,” says Jereissati. “As a little kid I remember my father giving money to my sister and me to count the bags in the mall.” The two would eagerly approximate which retailers did the most business by how many of their shopping bags they spotted consumers carrying.
Jereissati Filho grew up in the Brazil of the 1970s and 1980s, a world without global luxury brands. Import restrictions were so tight that it was virtually impossible for foreign prestige brands to enter the Brazilian market. Those who wanted high-end goods had to venture outside Brazil to purchase them, or ask friends or relatives to bring them back.
Fortunately for Jereissati Filho, his family holidays abroad exposed him to upscale, luxury boutiques early on. “I remember my mother being a customer,” he recalls. “It was always a dream for me to be able to have all those brands inside the country and for Brazil to really be a part of this luxury world.”
As the government lifted import restrictions in the early 1990s, Jereissati Filho began making this dream a reality. After earning his business degree at Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo, he joined the family business in 1994 as a marketing officer and quickly rose up the ranks to become CEO in 2005. Along the way he helped Emporio Armani and Louis Vuitton make their first moves into a Brazilian shopping mall, when they opened at Iguatemi São Paulo in the late 1990s.
“It was never easy, first because Brazil was not the Brazil of today,” says Jereissati Filho. “We had to convince people that we were a market that would have enough shoppers for their brand. And we had to show them that our malls were more like department stores and would be the meeting point for rich Brazilians.”
But first movers found that their mall stores outperformed their standalone São Paulo stores, piquing the interest of other global brands. And soon, Hugo Boss, Max Mara, Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Rimowa also opened outlets at Iguatemi São Paulo, while Salvatore Ferragamo, Burberry, MAC, Gucci, Missoni and Tory Burch selected the shopping centre to be their first Brazilian location.
“Iguatemi is the most important shopping centre in Brazil and it was the first one to improve its ambiance, retail experience, service level to accommodate the luxury brands,” observes Carlos Ferreirinha, president of Brazilian luxury consulting company MCF Consutoria & Conhecimento.
But not only does a location at Iguatemi position luxury companies to capitalise on the country’s growing wealth, it also provides an important opportunity for brand exposure. Brazilians, who can be reluctant to shop for international luxury goods at home due to the country’s heavy import duties, are more likely to purchase the brand when they travel abroad. “At Coach, we’re welcoming Brazilian tourists in increasing numbers to our North American stores,” says Ian Bickley, president of Coach International on his company’s decision to open a store at JK Iguatemi.
Then in 2008, the company set up iRetail, a division dedicated to facilitating entry into the Brazilian market for smaller high-end brands, such as Christian Louboutin, Lanvin and Diane von Furstenberg by providing them with merchandising support and more, taking out the guess work of what it takes to open a Brazil store. “We helped them with all the information they need in terms of logistics — what does it take to open a franchise in Brazil, the human resources, how to hire people here, how much they cost,” says Jereissati Filho.
The developer is not without competitors, however. The late Eliana Tranchesi, the owner of Brazilian fashion house Daslu, who was arrested and released for fraudulent imports in 2008, can be credited with bringing Louis Vuitton, Dior and Prada to Brazil, while developer JHSF’s Shopping Cidade Jardim mall is home to the first and only Emilio Pucci, Hermès and Jimmy Choo stores in the country.
But so far reports indicate that launching at an Iguatemi mall drives results. Sales at Diane von Furstenberg ’s Iguatemi São Paulo location rank second to her New York flagship, according to a BoF report last year, and the Goyard custom painting service at JK Iguatemi — the only one in the country — has been a hit, generating long waiting lists.
“The country is still undergoing a process of maturation,” concludes Mr Ferreirinha. “The fact that this is a recent movement, coupled with the robust growth of the middle class, creates the perfect environment for consumers who want to access what is different and allow themselves a moment of shopping outside their usual range. The luxury market still has much room to grow in the country and different consumers to win over.”
A version of this article first appeared in a special print edition of The Business of Fashion, published to accompany the launch of the BoF 500. To get your copy, click here or visit Colette in Paris, Opening Ceremony in New York, London and Los Angeles, Le Mill in Mumbai and Sneakerboy in Melbourne.