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Brazilian Fashion’s Identity Crisis

With high street brands gaining momentum and high-end designers sitting out the shows, or showing collections lacking in creativity, Brazil’s local luxury fashion scene is facing something of an identity crisis.
Colcci Spring/Summer 2014 Show at São Paulo Fashion Week | Source: SPFW
By
  • Jorge Grimberg

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Despite rising inflation and slowing growth, Brazil is still the world's sixth largest economy. And when it comes to fashion, international retailers and consumers remain excited with Brazilian labels. Indeed, venerable Parisian department store Le Bon Marché is currently promoting over 120 Brazilian brands. But the country's local fashion market is facing something of an identity crisis.

São Paulo Fashion Week and Fashion Rio, staged earlier this month, featured collections from over 50 brands. But the truth is, there were very few directional shows. Indeed, many of Brazil's most forward-thinking designers have vanished from local catwalks. Pedro Lourenço and Lucas Nascimento have long shown in Paris and London, respectively, while more established names such as Reinaldo Lourenço and Gloria Coelho decided to skip this season.

Meanwhile, at Brazil’s fashion weeks — which have long mixed shows by high-end brands with those by high street brands like Colcci, TNG, Triton and Cavalera — large commercially-minded local fashion groups, such as AMC Textil and Inbrands, are on the rise and presented unoriginal shows featuring trends like black-and-white, cut-outs, emerald and floral patterns, all seen before on European runways.

“The fact that you have more mass production, high street labels in Brazil’s fashion weeks is not necessarily a bad thing,” João Paulo Nunes, founder and editor of The Style Examiner and a correspondent for The Huffington Post, told BoF. “We need to understand that the definition of fashion is becoming much more democratic. But whether that puts pressure on more independent designers is something that we need to look into and find ways to support it.”

"The market is going through changes. Some [companies] will grow and some will disappear. Right now there is something I call 'a fog' on the fashion business in Brazil, where we can't see beyond it and predict exactly what's going to happen," said Paulo Borges, founder and CEO of both São Paulo Fashion Week and Fashion Rio.

"It's the end of an era. Paulo Borges is starting all over again. As if there was nothing before. It's a new generation emerging on so many levels," said Brazilian fashion icon and Vogue columnist Costanza Pascolato.

Brazilians are starving for fashion. But the upper classes increasingly choose international brands over local ones (and often prefer to shop abroad, where taxes are much lower).

“At the moment, everything has become global. How could we imagine 20 years ago that that we could go shopping in São Paulo and see this number of global brands — remember the market was closed until 1993. This simply wasn’t planned. And the internal market didn’t transform itself. Now we are facing this confusion, which I find wonderful, but there will be losses on the way,” said Borges.

"I think the market is really interesting… people are looking for international brands, fashion shows. It's like the 1980s in Europe. The country is moving very fast. Fashion shows are getting bigger; blogging is huge. But the local shows are still not strong enough to say something," said Stefano Roncato, fashion director of Milano Finanza, who has been covering Brazil for over a decade.

The Brazilian government has programs geared at helping local designers to promote themselves during the country’s fashion weeks and tradeshows. The most interesting is Rio Moda Hype, a bi-annual competition that coincides with Fashion Rio. Each season, the scheme’s five winners receive sponsorship from Sebrae, an institution that supports small enterprise, to stage a show as part of the official Fashion Rio schedule. “We’ve had over 270 designers registered on the programme this season. There are many good creative designers that don’t have the budget to produce their collections and Sebrae sponsors their shows and also offer special courses on how to build and sustain a business for all the participants, not only the winners,” said Fabiana Pereira Leite, a fashion coordinator at Sebrae.

But one thing’s for sure. The shape of Brazilian fashion is changing. As international luxury brands continue to expand their presence in the country, consumers now have more choice than ever and local brands will have to work harder to stay in the game.

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