If there is a name — besides those of the actual designers — that comes up when Brazilian fashion is mentioned, it’s Robert Forest. Since traveling to Brazil over six years ago with Mario Testino to check out the market, Forest has been working as a consultant with most of the who’s who of Brazilian fashion — from Patricia Viera (in her early days) to the über-talented Isabel Capeto (the current sensation). We met up with Forest after Capeto’s show in São Paulo to get his take on where Brazilian fashion stands locally and internationally.
JCR: In your estimation, what is the status of Brazilian fashion at the moment?
RF: I believe that as the interest in Brazil as a tourist holiday destination grows, it also opens people’s eyes to the fashion and lifestyle here. Initially, because of the predominance of beach culture here and the hot summers and mild winters, people were focused on Havaianas flip-flops, swimwear and bikinis by Rosa Cha, Salinas, Lenny, Blueman, etc., and then, the major jeanswear and T-shirt/casual-lifestyle business was discovered. Now, I think with the exposure of more Brazilian designers and design companies in Europe and the USA, there is a growing recognition of the design talent here and also the great industry that offers exceptional production and printing, weaving, and sewing techniques.
JCR: Tell us about some of the labels that you currently work with.
RF: When I came here six years ago, I met Patricia Viera, through knowing her sisters, the ex-models Andrea and Cristina. Patricia took me to meet Lenny and Salinas. I saw Patricia’s leatherwork and started to work with her — initially selling to Browns and Barneys and eventually showing her leathers and suedes, which incorporated a lot of sophisticated handwork, in Paris. I had also met Daslu on that first trip, after hearing about the label from Betty Lago and Mario [Testino]. I was very impressed with their retail business — the original store. I eventually started to work with them on international press and began to wholesale a small group of their own label — beginning with seven stores the first season, in 2003. Now they have approximately 80 retail outlets internationally. I was also the first to export Carlos Miele — first to Browns. Mrs. B[urstein] was quick to see that there was something interesting, and that the label offered her customers something new, different, and wearable. I have consulted with Osklen and Lenny over the years, and it was at Lenny where I met Isabela Capeto. I started to work with her when she started her own collection about three years ago. We started to show the collection in Paris immediately, and she’s had much commercial success since her summer 2005 African-inspired collection. For the last year, I have also been working with the Abest group (Carlos, Isabela, and Patricia are all members), as well as Reinaldo Lourenço, Gloria Coelho, Iodice, Rosa Cha, Lino Villaventura, Walter Rodrigues, Tereza Santos, and newly joined Maria Bonita and HuisClos and Osklen, who are all showing at the Crillon hotel and other locations in Paris. Next season we will have Lenny and Salinas, and also accessory companies such as Francesca Giobbi, SerpuiMarie, Fransiska Hubener, Mauricio Medeires, and Constanca Basto. I’m also working in Rio with Angela Carvalho shoes and sandals and Glorinha Paranagua, whose bamboo clutch has been a perennial bestseller for the last four years. Just this month, it was featured in Harper’s Bazaar again as a great find!
RF: There are obviously some drawbacks here. Winters are usually hard, as there is a lightness to the season, although with year-round travel there can still be a market for this merchandise in all seasons.
JCR: We’ve seen you at both Fashion Rio and São Paulo Fashion Week, size up these events for us.
RF: I saw shows in Rio and only Patricia Viera and Isabel Capeto in São Paulo. As the shows here started from a retail point of view, in the shopping centers, there is always a very commercial aspect to some of the most successful collections. However, there is also a design interest from some of the other shows. Carmelitas looked good in Rio. TNG was sporty but had a point of view. Walter Rodrigues showed one of his best collections and there was also a great energy from the young collections featured at Rio Moda Hype. From the TV and online coverage I saw, there was a very diverse group here in São Paulo. Cavalera unveiled a new image for them in womenswear, and Fause Haten looked good. Alexandre Herchcovitch looked especially sophisticated and rich. I think these last two seasons have been particularly strong for him and the collections much more well-rounded both creatively and commercially.
JCR: There’s a style movement among the women in São Paulo. Give us some sense of the lifestyle that these women are living.
RF: The look of women here in São Paulo and Rio is definitely influenced by the casual, summery lifestyle — low-rise jeans, flip-flop-style sandals. Women break down total designer looks, preferring instead to mix-and-match with jeans. Casual is a staple here. The Daslu look of mixing jeans with a Chanel or Chanel-type jacket and the right shoes and bag has been a big look here for some time and always will be.