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Beyond bikinis: Brazil's fashion breakout

"In Brazil, we actually don't need clothes," says Graça Cabral, the director of strategic partnerships and institutional relations for Luminosidade, the organization that runs Sao Paulo Fashion Week, which ended two weeks ago, and its sister organization for beachwear and resort collections, Fashion Rio. "We don't need them to keep warm. But we love fashion – we use it to embellish ourselves, to make ourselves more seductive – and we are very open to new ideas."

The world is open to Brazil's ideas as well.

A spate of designers from Sao Paulo are capturing the attention of international fashion editors and have started showing their collections at fashion weeks in New York, London and Paris. They're also getting support from local promoters who have found innovative ways to deliver Brazilian fashion to an international audience.

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On the Sao Paulo fashion scene, Alexandre Herchcovitch is the breakaway star. The avant-garde designer who made his name at home with his signature skull prints in the mid-1990s has since expanded his business; he has a devoted Japanese following and has opened a store in Tokyo as well as New York.

Issa, meanwhile, was launched in 2003 and is designed by Brazilianborn Daniella Helayel; she is based in London but has taken off in her home country (where she is launching seven stores) as well as around the world on the strength of her most famous customer, the Duchess of Cambridge.

(The former Kate Middleton famously wore that blue Issa wrap dress for her engagement announcement, spawning countless knockoffs.)

The next wave of Brazilian designers has caught the eye of Nicholas Mellamphy, vice-president and buying director for The Room at Hudson's Bay.

"I have picked up Lucas Nascimento," he says of the knitwear designer whose fall 2013 show in London drew raves for its moody emerald cloaks.

"And Pedro Lourenço is also buzz-worthy," he adds, referring to the creator of sexy-tough leather mini-dresses and halters slashed to the navel.

Brazil is a relatively new player on the international fashion scene. "Our [capital] markets were closed until the 1990s," Cabral says. "And then we had such inflation that it was impossible to plan ahead with medium or long-term projects. Our designers had to deliver [to buyers] less than two months after the shows."

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Geography, too, has worked against the country.

The international fashion press, which spends a month and a half on the road each season from New York to Paris, rarely ventured to Sao Paulo, both because of the distance and its reverseseasonal schedule. But Cabral and Luminosidade persisted: They started scheduling the Sao Paulo and Rio shows close together and, more importantly, have accelerated the country's fashion seasons. Now, Sao Paulo, which just showed spring 2014, presents its seasons six months ahead of New York, effectively putting the Brazilians "first"

on the fashion calendar. They were also diligent in inviting the world's fashion press to experience the lively events and setting Brazilian designers up with showrooms to find buyers.

Brazil's bronzed-bombshell models have also helped. They are "very big celebrities here," Cabral says. "They take word of our designers back to the larger fashion world, and their followers on the Internet help share information both ways."

One of the most effective tools Luminosidade has employed to date, however, was linking arms two years ago with the highly regarded Sao Paulo Biennial, a major stop for international art purchasers and influencers; it is held in the same three-storey Oscar Niemeyer building as the fashion shows.

"We do many collaborations with the artists and architects of Latin America,"

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Cabral says. "There is a strong link between the fields of fashion, design and art and they feed each other."

Indeed, Sao Paulo is – contrary to Brazil's image as a swath of teeny bikinis and endless beaches – a massive urban centre whose designers are, as Made in Brazil blogger Juliano Corbetta describes it, "making an impact on an international level." He cites the Brazilian luxury brand Osklen, "which started to also show in New York in September and has stores in New York and Miami." Corbetta began his blog when he lived in New York and later moved back to Sao Paulo to edit a national men's-wear magazine of the same name. "A 30-per-cent stake of Osklen was recently purchased by Alpargatas, the company that owns Havaianas," he says. Osklen began, oddly, as a cold-weather label for snowboarders but evolved into a renowned bikini line.

Skin-baring looks and a sexy, beachy vibe are a very marketable part of the Brazilian brand. But "we are such a huge country," Cabral says. "And we are very culturally mixed. The Brazilian look runs from streetwear to extreme luxury, from very rational to exuberant. The thing that ties everything together is our energy for life. That is what is appealing to people around the globe."

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