Not only does Brazil already possess a monopoly on all the good things in life – beaches, sunshine, carnival, caipirinha – it will soon host the two biggest sporting events on the planet, the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
And as one of the world's fastest-emerging economies, with a current GDP annual growth rate of 5%, the country is also becoming a super power. So it's little wonder that as Brazil's national confidence swells, its fashion scene does too, thanks in no small part to its two major catwalk events: São Paulo fashion week (SPFW) and Fashion Rio.
Just a few years ago, Brazil's only famous fashion exports were bikinis, Havaianas and Victoria's Secret models. Now, established brands such as Osklen, Issa, Carlos Miele, Pedro Lourenço, Alexandre Herchcovitch and Lucas Nascimento sell internationally, and at home a diverse camp of designers is proving that Brazilian fashion has grown up.
"It's been incredible. Everyone thought the early shows in Brazil were a crazy idea, but a new generation of designers who really understand the catwalk are coming through," says Garçia Cabral of Luminosidade, the company that organises SPFW and Fashion Rio. "Fashion has become a means of cultural expression in Brazil and the world is seeing that change." Brazil's fashion weeks, first launched by Paulo Borges in 1996, are now hailed as the world's fifth-largest and have just realigned their dates in step with the international fashion calendar – although Brazil is a season ahead, having just shown autumn/winter 2013. São Paulo is where the more directional and established designers show, whereas Rio represents the lifestyle, street and diffusion brands.
At SPFW (29-31 October), renowned conceptualist Gloria Coelho showed clean, geometric sheaths and suits inspired, she says, by "the abstract world and the beauty of urban architecture". Her ex-husband Reinaldo Lourenço mingled biker girls with matadors for his range of boleros and body-conscious, bow-waisted dresses in dark leather, lace and wool gabardine. And Ronaldo Fraga covered his boxy shirtdresses and loose trousers in dense prints and embroideries based on the drawings of Paulo Marques de Oliveira.
At Fashion Rio (6-9 November), ingenious digital prints came courtesy of Ellus Second Floor (origami florals and toy robots on diaphanous tailoring) and Espaço Fashion (tarot card motifs on sporty looks). Brazilian landscapes and crafts inspired Acqua Studio's collection of caged cocktail dresses based on the fires of the Cerrado using linen and leather encrusted with layers of rusty acrylic. Similarly, Patachou's quivering, frilled shifts were created with lace, sianinhas and tulles from the Minas Gerais mountains.
So what is Brazilian style? "We Brazilians have a different relationship with our bodies from other women; it's part of our DNA, which is expressed on the catwalk through sexy clothes," says Cabral. SPFW designer Paula Raia concurs: "I like to play with the obvious sensual aesthetics of Brazilian women but not in a vulgar way. On the contrary, I add a minimal touch to it."
The Brazilian fashion industry has annual revenue of US$63bn, is the fourth-largest textile producer in the world and employs 1.7 million people. No small batatas. But the challenges are substantial. High import duties, costly tax and lack of technical know-how all create a barrier to translating the huge domestic market into a global one. In the past five years, global brands such as Prada, Burberry and Chanel have also begun to flood into the high-end shopping malls, creating stiff competition. "Brazilians are a very visual people and fashion plays an important role in our lives. Now that foreign brands here, and Brazilian buyers are ordering from the likes of Peter Pilotto and Mary Katrantzou too, fashion is becoming even more important," says Evilàsio Miranda Costa of Texbrasil, the fashion industry export initiative. "Brazil has always absorbed cultures from around the world. Now it's time to take our globalised personality to the world."
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