SÃO PAULO, Brazil — “I didn’t even know international trade fairs existed when I set up my business in 2003,” admitted Alessandra Migani, founder of Brazilian designer label Alessa. “I got a phone call from ABIT (the Brazilian clothing and textile association) telling me they wanted to show my collection at trade show Simm in Madrid,” she told BoF from her stand at womenswear show Who’s Next in Paris earlier this month, where she was showing her Autumn/Winter collection. Fast forward to 2011 and Ms Migani now sells her brand to some 30 countries and boasts an impressive list of stockists. She also shows at Rio de Janeiro’s fashion week, Fashion Rio.
With Brazil’s huge domestic market, most of the country’s fashion designers — save for a few international success stories like Osklen and Carlos Miele — had been quite content to live in their South American bubble. Then while the US, followed by Europe, hit financial meltdown in 2008, Brazil was still sitting pretty on economic growth. Suddenly, all eyes (and not just those in fashion) were on a country that, until then, had been largely synonymous with football, bikinis and samba. Suddenly, more emerging Brazilian fashion designers, operating both inside and outside the country, had a tremendous opportunity to be noticed on the global stage.
So, while once upon a time, the country was mostly known for its manufacturing capabilities, today, international press and buyers are focusing their attention on Brazil, eager to uncover fresh design talent. “Some people still tend to think of swimwear, but that’s just not the case anymore,” said Jessica Bumpus, fashion features editor of Vogue.co.uk, which covered the two major Brazilian fashion platforms São Paulo Fashion Week and Fashion Rio for the first time last season. “What’s great about Brazilian fashion is that it’s fresh — some ideas we may have seen elsewhere in the past, but here they are done in quite a different way.”
But while Brazil’s relative youth in the global fashion market may have its advantages, emerging designers here still face significant cultural obstacles that they must overcome if they are to succeed internationally. “Brazilian fashion designers rarely break through in the US and UK because of language and cultural barriers,” explained Scott Mitchem, a US-based journalist who writes about Brazilian culture for Wallpaper and The New York Times. He advises designers to ramp up their PR efforts by building a team that understands the culture in both Brazil and export countries, and points to established brands such as Osklen and Lenny Niemeyer as role models.
As the Brazilian fashion weeks’ Autumn/Winter 2011 editions draw to a close, it is those designers who combine creativity with commercial nous that the global fashion industry should keep a close eye on. BoF spoke with a number of editors, buyers and other experts, both inside and outside the country, to suss out the top new names on their Brazil fashion radar.
Selected by: Rosane Ribeiro, Vogue Brasil and Rubens Gomes, Co-Founder of Choix
Brazilian-born, London-based knitwear supremo Lucas Nascimento trained with the likes of Giles Deacon and Jonathan Saunders before launching his own line at Fashion Rio Autumn/Winter 2010, to critical acclaim. “Lucas is the most promising new star, but shows the maturity of a veteran,” said Rosane Ribeiro, Vogue Brasil’s fashion correspondent. “His sophisticated and intricate work is young, sensual, sculptural yet extremely chic. His catwalk show could be placed anywhere in the world.”
In December, Mr Nascimento landed his first stockist — the innovative concept store Choix in São Paulo, which also stocks international names like Comme des Garçons Play alongside up-and-coming Brazilian designers. Rubens Gomes, co-founder of Choix, says he decided to stock the designer “for his talent for creating impeccable forms and silhouettes. With every collection, Lucas establishes himself as one of the most creative designers of his generation.” Rubens added that the collection is selling well, with mini skirts and dresses among the key pieces. “Lucas’ career is very promising; he has the potential to show at the London or Paris fashion weeks,” he said.
Picked by: Carolina Althaller of WGSN
With 15 years experience as design director for Maria Bonita Extra, the diffusion line of respected designer label Maria Bonita, Andrea Marques left the womenswear brand in 2007 to launch her eponymous line at Fashion Rio’s Autumn/Winter 10 showcase. Since then, Ms Marques has earned 30 stockists across Brazil. “Brazil is gaining more visibility," said Ms Marques. "But visibility is not enough to achieve international recognition and respect: you need competitive prices, to honour your deliveries and offer quality.”
Trends forecasting agency WGSN certainly believes in Ms Marques’ global potential. “Andrea’s customer is cosmopolitan, independent and knows fashion. She is equally at home in São Paulo as she is in New York, Paris or Milan,” said Carolina Althaller, of WGSN’s South American office.
Picked by: Stefan Siegel, Founder of Not Just A Label
An alumnus of Casa de Criadores, Brazil’s most respected talent-nurturing fashion organisation, João Pimenta graduated to São Paulo Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2011, firmly establishing himself as the Brazilian menswear designer to watch. His couture-inspired designs are not for the faint-hearted, however, and caught the attention of Stefan Siegel, founder of Not Just A Label, an international showcase and internet retailer for emerging fashion designers.
“By international standards, João is still relatively unknown, but his position in the Brazilian fashion industry is the equivalent of Matthew Williamson’s in the UK,” says Mr Siegel. “He uses traditional couture techniques, but you can’t put his style — or that of any Brazilian designer — into a box. Seigel believes Mr Pimenta’s collection can the potential to translate on global markets. "People used to say that Brazilian fashion wasn’t avant-garde enough, but better fashion schools and levels of production are allowing them to compete internationally,” he added.
Selected by: Rosane Ribeiro, Vogue Brasil, and Roberta Damasceno, Owner of Dona Coisa
Julia Valle is arguably one of Brazil’s hardest working young designers. Before being invited to join the line-up at Rio Moda Hype, a showcase for young talent at Fashion Rio, for Autumn/Winter 09, Ms. Valle could already boast stints at established Brazilian brands Redley, Faven and Printing.
“Brazilians have a special way of dealing with their bodies’ sense of beauty and sensuality,” says Ms Valle. “But [fashion] is still a very young industry [here] with our fashion schools dating back only 20 years. We have absurdly high taxes so our prices are not competitive and we don’t get incentives from the government.”
Still, her Autumn/Winter 2011 collection of pared-down, elegant pieces invites comparisons with Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo for Céline, said Vogue Brasil’s Ms Ribeiro: “Julia carries that effortless chic and deconstructed silhouette [in her collections]." Roberta Damasceno, owner of Rio’s iconic multi-brand store Dona Coisa is also a fan. “Julia is young, modern and would fit in very well with the Dona Coisa brand mix,” which includes successful Brazilian labels Sônia Pinto and Reinaldo Lourenço.
Selected by: Roberta Damasceno, Owner of Dona Coisa, and Rubens Gomes, Co-Founder of Choix
If there is one Brazilian fashion designer at the head of the emerging designers pack, it’s Pedro Lourenço. Whilst his peers are still making a name for themselves at São Paulo Fashion Week and Fashion Rio, Mr Lourenço has gone one step further: he made his debut at Paris Fashion Week in March 2010 in what was arguably the most commercial and successful event on the catwalk calendar.
Still only 20 years old, Mr Lourenço is the Brazilian designer most likely to achieve international success, having been praised by influential publications including the Daily Telegraph and Style.com. Indeed, his architectural collections have drawn comparisons with Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière.
Choix’s Mr. Gomes, who stocks the designer’s collections, also named Lourenço as a designer-to-watch, while Dona Coisa’s Ms. Damasceno, singled him out as the Brazilian designer most likely to make his name on the global stage. “Pedro Lourenço has been demonstrating his talent since a young age and has always lived in a universe of creativity and production,” said Ms. Damasceno. To hit the big time, all he needs now is to add more commerciality to his designs.
Ana Santi is a writer based in London and maintains the blog Born in Brazil