BEDLAM IN BRAZIL
The madness of São Paulo Fashion Week
by Eduardo Graça/photography Victor Affaro
Summer and Brazil. Put those two words together and you think Rio de Janeiro, right? Not always. It is in São Paulo, with its luxurious hotels, restless nightlife, aggressive bourgeoisie, and obsessive cosmopolitanism that Brazilian Summer Fashion Week runs each June, at the peak of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Bienal, a Bauhaus-style pavilion, is located in the main urban park of São Paulo. For one week, the building—it is one of Oscar Niemeyer’s most important works in this city—is swamped by Brazilian beauties and their fashion entourages, including local powerhouses and exciting new designers. Zoo was there and checked out the best and the most exotic of São Paulo Fashion Week’s 23rd season.
“People ask me about my job all the time. They are eager to know what it means to be a fashion designer in Brazil. Well, I have no clue. When I think about myself, I see someone who enjoys creating clothes, not a fancy fashion maker,” says Wilson Ranieri, 28, a pudgy, black paulistano who hails from the capital’s suburbs and who has been a national sensation since last year.
Ranieri’s summer collection caught the attention of international fans due to its devotion to a sensuality that has no room for vulgarity. His dresses are sober but not boring, provocative but not explicit, fresh but timeless.
“I don’t think you need to be over-sexualized to do a summer collection just because you are in a tropical country,” he says. “For instance, I really like to display an amount of volume in my pieces. That’s why you’ll see those huge sleeves on the back of my dresses. It is at the same time sensual and sober.”
One of the highlights of his new collection - which also conquered Japan and is now available in select stores in Tokyo and Osaka - was a red jumpsuit made with bamboo acetates. Ranieri’s desire to create something original extends to his decision to work exclusively with the hand shaping moulage technique, whereby pieces are created directly from the body of his human-sized models.
"I Don't Think You Need To Be Over-Sexualized To Do A Summer Colletction Just Because You Are In A Tropical Country" - Wilson Ranieri
Ranieri’s fondness for moulage started during his years as a freshman at the most prestigious Fashion School in São Paulo. “I was obsessed by this African tribe, the Ndebeles, Zulus from Zimbabwe,” he explains. “They did these amazing clothes with animal skin. Things that would seem really primal in the first place, but their level of sophistication and the elegance of the final product caught my attention. I was so fascinated by it that I bought my first moulage model right before the presentation of my final thesis and never stopped. Due to the fact that I like to work with several fabrics – not just one kind of material – the moulage is perfect to develop my notion of fashion construction. But I would also say that there’s nothing insanely exotic about this process. The Ndebele moulage, for instance, is very similar to the most common technique that the main jeans and pants designers use nowadays”.
And speaking of jeans, the world of denim in Brazil has never been the same since Zoomp, with its unmistakable lightning logo, showed its first collection in São Paulo 33 years ago. Zoomp’s main innovation was also its secret golden touch: the jeans were reshaped to emphasize one of the main assets of Brazilian girls – their behinds.
“My then-wife was our first model and our main idea was to show off the beauty of, let us say, the Brazilian’s more Africanized ass,” says Renato Kherlakian, 57, the creator of Zoomp. “Even our name was a push for something more energetic that would translate in velocity and the sound of the universe.”
Although he’s been on the scene for some time, Kherlakian refuses to be a slave to tradition. Quite the contrary, in fact. His 2008 summer collection was inspired by The Matrix. The movie influenced both the men’s line - think Leonard Wilson as The Merovingian - and the women’s line - think Monica Belluci’s Persephone. The extravagant denim, with its hyper-reflective prints and futuristic look, was one of the talk-of-the-town items of the SPFW.
After an international explosion in Europe, particularly in Paris, in the 90s, Zoomp suffered from the success of Diesel jeans in Brazil. Now, it is trying to regain the market by investing in names such as Alessandra Ambrósio, 26, the supermodel who is going to be the face of the label for next summer. Zoomp has also reined in Alexandre Herchkovitch, probably the most adored Brazilian fashion designer, who is to become their new creative director. But more on him later.
Affectionately known as ‘Ale,’ Alessandra Ambrósio is regarded here as the new Gisele Bündchen. Anointed as one of the 100 hottest women in the world for Maxim magazine, the Victoria’s Secret beauty attracts zillions of photographers who can’t stop taking her picture.
“This is insane. I wish I could feel more like I was at home but I can barely breathe,” mumbles Ambrósio, as the paparazzi nearly suffocates her.
Ambrósio’s brief but sexy scene with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale drove the male portion of the SPFW crowd crazy. But there was one more reason for the frisson: Ale, who lives in New York and will be the new face of Zoomp, was returning to the event after a three-year absence. Everybody was hungry for her.
So much so that Ale outshone the other celebs at the SPFW, including Hollywood actress Chloé Sevigny (one of the main reasons to watch the North American TV hit Big Love), the local music diva Ivete Sangalo (who sells millions of CDs in Brazil with her Axé style), and the singer Jamie Burke, Sienna Miller’s latest beau.
Sevigny was invited to be part of the Ellus show. The actress came to Brazil to star in the ads of this other famous Brazilian jeans label, created in 1972. She talked a bit, walked a bit, danced a bit, and vanished suddenly, leaving Brazilian fans happy and desiring a little more. Touché.
Meanwhile, Sangalo brought loud fans to check out the Neon beachwear show, while Burke played an exclusive concert for fashionistas, who were keen to see if the new Calvin Klein hunk had more than just long hair and seductive lips.
Burke’s concert was a hit, and Miller will certainly forgive him for being awestruck by the beachwear (and its fabulous models) that were showcased. It was as diverse as a parade of semi-naked bodies could be.
Cia.Marítima, a favorite label, took its inspiration from the French Riviera in the 70s, with pieces that were practical and elegant, restrained in color and theme.
Poko Pano’s Paola Robba presented a bright and sunny collection, while Água de Coco’s models walked on water, er, plastic silver. It got some love from the audience by showcasing a one-piece suit with a long cape, in super-hero mode.
And there was more. The traditional and classy Maria Bonita opted for sport-chic in a blue-and-silver collection. Tufi Duek presented his navy theme with marine caps in the favored bleu-blanc-rouge combination. And Marcelo Frommer went deep into what critics called a “periphery style” at the first fashion show of AfroReggae, a cultural institution that works with local creators from poor communities in Rio.
The favela chic proposed by Sommer, a hyper-multi-color streetwear style exclusively presented by black models, had fewer fans than the creations of Isabela Capeto. The Rio de Janeiro-based designer brought romanticism back in all its glory. Her show, presented outside the Bienal building in Ibirapuera Park, was well received. Capeto’s delicate pieces included handmade needlework details. If she were living in New York, her style would certainly be described as “greenmarket fashion.”
And now, back to Alexandre Herchkovitch. The main name of the São Paulo underground fashion scene one decade ago, he is adored here for his theatrical and androgynous shows. This year, Herchkovitch made his women wear ties and sober vests. But it was his men’s collection that was the shocker. The theme was black-metal fashion, with long-haired models wearing extravagant pieces that speak of the dark times in which we live. Sad tropics? Hell yes! They wore excessive, Kiss-esque make-up, leggings, cycling shorts (the Black Sabbath-inspired print is unforgettable), and Vivienne Westwood’s bondage pants, resurrected in a neo-punk look. Herchkovitch proved to be the true showman of the event. Not surprising, then, that he’s just been hired as the new artistic director of Zoomp. His version of a Brazilian summer has plenty of space for darkness, doubt and fear. After all, this is São Paulo, my friends.