Foreign brands covet Brazil's hot fashion market

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

SAO PAULO (AP) — Even before the models in towering heels and slinky little numbers had left the catwalk, audience members were out of their seats and frantically elbowing their way toward a pop-up boutique set up at the top of the runway.

Just minutes after the conclusion of an extravagant show unveiling a capsule collection by Versace for Brazilian fast-fashion retailer Riachuelo, the cash registers were hopping.

Despite its sputtering economy, Brazil continues to be a prized target market for international fashion brands, as witnessed during the Sao Paulo fashion week's fall-winter 2015 shows that wrapped up Friday.

Versace's collection for Riachuelo, which includes pencil skirts and sexed-up gowns in the Italian house's iconic leopard and nautical prints at prices ranging from $20 to around $200, wasn't the only high-profile collaboration unveiled. Stella McCartney also presented her second capsule collection with C&A, made up of boxy-cut blouses and pants in fluid fabrics that riffed on the romantic, androgynous look that has become the trademark of the London-based brand.

At a news conference in Sao Paulo, McCartney told journalists it was in part the enthusiastic response in fashion-crazy Brazil to her first collaboration with C&A that prompted her to roll out another collection with the Germain retailer, sold exclusively in Brazil.

"Brazilian women are cool and sexy, but they're also aware," as consumers, McCartney said. "I'd say they're at the forefront of fashion."

Pieces from the collection, dominated by neutral tones like seashell pink, lames and lace, retail from $20-$100 and go on sale in select C&A stores on Nov. 18.

In this era of instant gratification, where brands are desperate to cash in on the excitement generated by lavish runway shows, Versace's catwalk pop-up boutique might emerge as a new trend.

After designer Donatella Versace emerged on the catwalk Thursday night to take a bow, flanked by two tattoo-covered hunks in campy sailor costumes worthy of the Village People, a giant neon sign reading "open" lit up, and frantic audience members made a mad dash for the racks hung with the second-skin minidresses and legging-tight jeans like those worn by the models just minutes earlier. Lines immediately formed at the half a dozen tills set up for the occasion.

Still, despite such over-the-top attempts by foreign brands to try to break into the Brazilian market, the country's garment sector continues to be dominated by home-grown labels.

Several dozen of Brazil's best-known brands fielded winter 2015 collections at Sao Paulo fashion week, a 5-day extravaganza that has emerged as Latin America's premier fashion event.

Brazil used to hold competing fashion weeks in both Sao Paulo and its beachside neighbor Rio de Janeiro, but starting this season the fall-winter shows in Rio have been scrapped. Some Rio labels migrated to Sao Paulo, while others will continue to show in Rio, but only for the spring-summer season.

Top shows in Sao Paulo this week included the collection of modified trench coats at the sporty, Rio-based label Osklen, one of the few Brazilian brands with stores abroad.

Another Rio-based veteran, Patricia Vieira served up easy, breezy garments, all made from her trademark material, leather, and some laser-cut so finely that the swingy cocktail dresses appeared to be made of lace.

GIG Couture delivered sophisticated robe sweaters and knit skirts in clashing prints. Swoon-worthy Art Deco-style Rorschach test prints in egg yolk yellow and others covered in a mosaic of Islamic stars, were piled one on top of another to an elegantly chaotic effect.

The presence of Brazil's best-known export, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who walked at the Colcci show Tuesday, wowed the fashion crowd, but perhaps the most electrifying models on the catwalks this week weren't, strictly speaking, human.

The crowd let out a collective sigh when an adorable dog opened the Reinaldo Fraga show Wednesday as part of a publicity stunt by an animal protection organization to promote pet adoptions. And none other than Darth Vader himself nearly sparked collective hysteria when he appeared on the Triton runway to set the mood for the brand's "Star Wars"-themed collection, flanked by two heavily armed stormtroopers.


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