We were first introduced to Clube Chocolate in Rio; immediately we were struck by the retail atmosphere — a seamless blend of European chic and tropical flair, the kind of store you always imagine just blocks away from the beach in a hot destination but can never manage to find. Located in the Fashion Mall — the site of many of Brazil’s successful brands, including Cavalera, Rosa Cha, and Sandpiper — Clube Chocolate’s window at the end of the second floor is awash in delectable prints and desirable colors: a fashion girl’s dream. Inside the store, the full story reveals itself. The selection is not only for women; men can choose from Comme des Garçons, Paul Smith, Prada Sport, Marni, and Yanuk jeans, among other brands. But it’s for women that the complete Clube Chocolate experience comes alive. A merchandising tour de force, the store is stocked with amazing dresses, tropical-influenced printed tops, crocheted and embroidered pieces from designers including Catherine Malandrino, Marni, and mouth-watering shoes from Rene Caovilla, Alaïa, Miu Miu, and Francesca Giobbi. Brazilian designers such as Patricia Viera, Reinaldo Lourenço, Isabela Capeto, and Coven are sold as well, and the selection of all of the brands is flawless.
Other impressive components of the store’s offerings are its Estudio Chocolate and Chocolate Bossa private-label lines (designed by Bettina Tancheit and Adriana Barra, respectively) that could be mistaken for Marni or Dries Van Noten, but with a distinct Brazilian flavor — especially in the indigenous-inspired embroideries and prints. The yummy summer dresses, knits, shoes, and bags are stocked among the known designer labels, adding punch to unspoiled results. The line has been amazingly successful, selling in the store and to other retailers in the country and across the globe.
In São Paulo, home to the larger store, its ethnic nature is further exposed. Director Jose Xavier Neto, who was charged with devising the brand’s perfect mix, gave us a tour and waxed lyrical about the nuances of the concept. He "traveled the world to see what everyone else was doing to avoid copying," with the aim to capture a "Brazilian sensuality" that only a Brazilian store can bring to a retail concept. Top Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld was hired to design a kind of oasis, a store that — unlike some of its overdesigned and cold European counterparts — is approachable. According to Neto, this was always "an important component" for the desired environment. Neto also broke down the merchandising concept: taking into account the types of women who would shop at the store, from the excesses of the über-rich bohemian to a low-key display of wealth for the artsy-craftsy lovers of Marni and Giobbi, and the older woman who probably dresses age-inappropriately who will go for the bright Pellat-Finet cashmeres with super-tight decorated jeans in another section, for example.
Set on four floors using local woods, stone, and even sand, the store has a getaway feeling that transports visitors to Amazonia. The São Paulo store sells the same brands as in Rio with a little extra for women — ask about their Girl’s Club Department, which offers lingerie from Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino — not to mention sex toys along with helpful advice from sales staff. In the charming downstairs restaurant, diners are seated on furniture that is available for purchase; the retail tableau is completed by Indians sitting on sand under palm trees crafting jewelry.
The Clube Chocolate brand was recently acquired by the Portuguese textile company Riopele; another store has already opened in Porto, Portugal. More openings are planned: New York in 2007, with another in Paris to follow. For the moment, Saks Fifth Avenue features six Clube Chocolate coop stores across the US. With the coming spread of Clube Chocolate, a delectable new flavor will be on the market.