Fashion Rio Tones It Down (A Little Bit)

When telling a Paris fashion editor about Rio’s fashion week, the first thing you hear is giggling, then, “How exciting—five days of Gisele in a thong and Havaianas!” In comparison to big sister São Paulo Fashion Week (see our full review of SPFW) and its international counterparts, Fashion Rio may not mark a style capital, but this year it did manage to prove that there’s more to Brazilian fashion than tanned supermodels trotting out beachwear.

The setting for this early January fashion week boded well: warm and sunny weather, breathtaking sunsets, passion fruit caipirinhas and VIP parties around the rooftop swimming pool of the Philippe Starck-designed, Ipanema Fasano hotel. Victor Dzenk, the very first show of the week, was set in the luxurious salon of Copacabana Palace. Flawless princess gowns and spider-web-embroidered cocktail dresses with peacock-feather details reminded all that Rio is, indeed, the capital of fiesta. The rest of the show—rock ‘n roll-inspired daywear that consisted of skinny leather jeans, printed leggings and Rolling Stones-style T-shirts—was fun and sexy, but very similar to what’s already cycled through the European catwalks.

Therein lies the biggest challenge for Rio’s fashion scene. Though Brazil is one of the global textile industry’s largest producers, its designs are primarily aimed at a highly demanding domestic market (accounting for 90% of the sales) that’s not yet saturated with European high-street giants like Zara and H&M.

In an attempt to seduce international press and buyers, Rio’s designers invest heavily in their runway productions—an approach that can easily be overdone. Mara Mac composed a stunning Nip/Tuck backdrop with nude models silhouetted through windows and a “finale” that included boatloads of irksome confetti, but the grandiosity of the set was inappropriately disproportionate to the boredom of the clothes.

In the show from Colcci, the Brazilian Diesel, models were made to walk awkwardly on a moving, circular runway while electro music pounded in the background and a post-apocalyptic installation of neon Chinese restaurant signs blinked off and on. As in preceding seasons, the streetwear leader booked übermodel Gisele Bündchen to walk exclusively for them. Bouncing and smiling, she appeared in three different looks, the last a glittering, bat-winged cocktail dress that was very déjà-vu. While the international press, who had waited nearly two hours for the show to begin, suppressed yawns, the Brazilian public was in a frenzy of excitement over the event, which was unanimously portrayed by the local press as the climax of the week.

Fortunately, there were some exciting discoveries to be made among Rio’s young designers, who didn’t all give into the temptation of ruffles, oversaturated colors, and fulsome handicraft. Melk Z-Da amazed with its gothic-romantic looks, which reminded us of Olivier Theyskens’ work for Nina Ricci. The DTA “dance class” show recalled ’80s movie Fame with its blend of gray jerseys, acid denims, baggy jeans, and tuxedos. The highly anticipated Maria Bonita Extra show enchanted local fashionistas and foreign press alike with its African-patterned and liberty-printed babydoll dresses, whose delicate straps infused the collection with a fresh schoolgirl spirit.

Eliza Conde revealed a ’70s-inspired collection, with extra-long dresses, unexpected pattern mixes and wide trousers. The same neo-hippie wind was blowing at the Drosofilia show, which paired fringed and embroidered dresses with basic checked men’s shirts. Last but not least, the Redley show, which took place in a gigantic portside warehouse, offered a fresh vision of Brazilian winter wear with bright, chunky knit dresses and matching scarves and army-green suits with striped detailing.

These young brands demonstrated that Brazilian fashion is making strides to catch up with the international scene. With fewer ruffles, less glitz and more boldness, Rio’s designers will soon be following in the steps of their prestigious predecessors, like carioca Isabela Capeto, whose daring and colorful designs delight Paris, and São Paolo-born Carlos Miele, whose Amazon dresses fascinate New York. Keep going, Rio—you’re almost there.

—Lauren Bastide

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