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Sao Paulo Fashion Week 2012: Between Optimism and Fear

Godfrey Deeny

November 02nd, 2012 @ 00:28 AM - Sao Paulo

If any country, and culture, reveals itself through its fashion week it is Brazil, where political currents; the threat of random violence and the desire for elegance rippled across the front pages of the nation’s dailies as well as showing up in its melodramatic runway shows. The four-day Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) opened Monday, Oct. 29 amid newspaper reports that streets gangs had targeted police for assassination. On its catwalks, one witnessed dark clothes on coal-eyed, disturbed looking models in a gothic fantasy by Lino Villaventura, while the show by hipster label Ellus was entitled “Police” and it featured female models in peak caps, black state trooper’s shirts and protective wristbands. “A policeman killed every 32 hours in Brazil,” screamed the headline in the city’s leading newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo, on Wednesday, as the daily’s fashion critic Vivian Whiteman termed the new look, “Sexy Totalitario.” That said, Brazil will always be an optimistic country, as was clear in the season’s three best shows – all from veteran fashion houses, Osklen, Gloria Coelho and Reinaldo Lourenco, and none of them staged in the fashion week’s new custom-made tent in Parque Villa Lobos. An ode to the Jet Set, Osklen’s show was a vision of dashing Brazilians in Aspen, with color block neoprene sweaters and fabulous mega snow crystal print après-ski tops, from the label’s founder and designer Oskar Mestavaht. Coelho’s winter 2013 collection opened with a brilliant display of color blocking and transparency where contrasting panels made for a shyly suggestive look. Staged an Electrolux store in Jardins Europa, the city’s wealthiest suburb, the collection had great charm even if it did get lost in the finale with some absurdist see-through tops. The week was also special for its change of dates, since show tsar Paolo Borges moved up both the Sao Paulo and Rio di Janeiro seasons by two months, necessitating the new location, since its traditional home, in Parque Ibirapuera, was booked, at least for this year, by the city’ Bienal art fair. That said, Brazilian fashion does not lack financing, the season has a budget of some 8 million reais, or $4 million, substantial for a week that only featured 19 catwalk shows. Nostalgia also wafted through the moment, particularly at Joao Pimenta. He billed his show as a homage to 30's Brazil, though it looked more like Silent era Hollywood meets Carnaby Street. Pimenta is certainly an knowledgeable tailor, even if his flights of fancy led to morning wear with multi-pleat, kilt-like gentleman's tails or three-piece suits where the 3rd element was an apron worn back to front. Topped by lace-covered trilbies and anchored by Rockabilly boots, the show had plenty of tough chic even if its heart was soft-centered. Never more so that the micro polka dot suit worn by one of the many models that sported matinee idol reed-thin moustache and waxed back hair. In a print obsessed culture, Uma Raquel Davidowicz went print free. In a land defined by the body beautiful, Raquel Davidowicz wrapped and enveloped the human form. In a country whose fauna and females dazzle, this designer works in a dark palette of anthracite, copper and ochre. Her leathers are creased, her cotton skirts un-ironed and lumpy, yet there was a certain grace to this collection, staged with an elegiacally mournful soundtrack, and worn by models with black and chocolate lipstick, and silver plasters in their hair. It may be just a Brazilian take on posh Goth, but it was an original view of sobriety. Albeit too somber for the giddy audience - rarely have we heard such muted applause at a show in SPFW. At Alexandre Herchcovitch, we got a switch to Victorian primness, albeit with a deconstructed twist - where jackets were inverted into peplums of cocktail dresses, and half of the opening looks were beveled like rather smart chess pieces. Herchcovitch is Brazil´s one great conceptual designer and his curvedly cut tops had great poise, a modern take on society hostess style, by a creator obsessed with inventing a new vernacular. Plus, his styling tricks - leather leaves that curled around hands, bands and court pumps - added that vital element of arty nonchalance. Rounding off the season, Lourenco staged an elegiac ode to smooth grand dames with the best-made collection in Latin America. To his credit, this designer can coax couture quality from his atelier like the flawlessly made transparent chiffon tops, finished with exceptional lace and jade embroidery and toughened with leather shoulders. “It was all about my own mother. Her elegance and her rigor,” a smiling Lourenco told FWD. Staged in a dark theater inside FAAP, which also houses the city’s leading fashion school, the collection was highly admirable, and would not look out of place on a Paris catwalk. Not quite so the staging, where marching trios of models across a bare black stage seemed a missed opportunity in a show presented in a theatre. Where was the mise en scene? Yet it was a classy way to end a season, where entering every show required passing through multiple gangs of body guards. Brazil is still enjoying a huge economic, and fashion, boom, yet security remains an ever present issue. That was best made clear by an angry protest from the photographers pit at one show, incensed by the theft of some of their equipment, though this is the sort of thing that unfortunately occurs in New York or Europe too. Still, their furious chant was revealing. They yelled in unison: “Sao Paolo Furto Week!” and furto in Portuguese means theft.

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