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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goodbye, Rio. Hello, Sao Paulo!

By Pia Catton...

Between the coxinha (chicken croquettes) and fresh acai (the anti-oxidant super fruit), Rio isn't a bad place to nurse a hangover. The beach, however, is. So off I headed to the leafy, bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Though I was informed repeatedly that I faced certain mugging, I felt safe in knowing I was meeting a local, a friend of a friend of a friend who lives in the area—nothing like three degrees of separation. Nothing bad happened.

Santa Teresa, once a haven for aristocrats, has crumbling buildings, decorative wrought iron and cobblestone streets that give it a French Quarter feel. We popped into the museum dedicated to Raimundo Otoni Castro Maya, an art collector who built a modernist house overlooking the city. The best of the art was neither the minor Picasso nor the Modigliani, but the 500 scenes (displayed in drawers) of early 19th-century Rio de Janeiro painted by the Frenchman Jean Baptiste de Debret. The lithographs served as snapshots of the New World for the folks back in Paris. And judging from these images, Rio has always been as bustling, fast and exotic as it is today.

Jean Baptiste de Debret

After a restorative lunch of feijoada, the traditional Brazilian black-bean stew, I headed back to the tents of Fashion Rio, where I learned two things: I had to depart at 5 am for my 8 am flight to Sao Paulo and "You can't leave Rio without going out to samba!" As it's impossible to argue with a Carioca celebrating her birthday at a samba club, a merry crew was duly rounded up. We made our way to a rustic club, Antiqua Sappore, in the neighborhood of Lapa, where the drinks are about $3 and the samba band keeps going all night. I had a full body sweat going all night, too, but I did make my flight.

Within hours I landed in Sao Paulo, had a quick nap at the hotel and feasted on another round of feijoada. This one was along the Praca Benedito Calixto, a park with a fantastic flea market on Saturdays. Prices are low, and the variety is enticing. Handmade scarves and jewelry range from 5 to 25 Real, but the remnants of technologies past—brightly colored telephones, a purple refrigerator and what must have been the first television in South America—are the more amusing attractions. Silver, too, was in large supply. So if you need that extra place setting, hop on a flight to Sao Paulo. As for fashion, stay tuned. First, another nap.

Flea market

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Fashion Rio: Day 5

By Pia Catton...

The Juliana Jabour after-party had it all. Aside from adorable Brazilian guys making strawberry caipirinhas, there was an endless supply of champagne, poured by waiters who were more intrepid than hot. They muscled their way onto the dance floor to make sure every glass in the house was full. So, as you can imagine, the place was raining men, unlike many a New York party. The ratio of men to women was at least 2 to 1, which should have made everyone giddy, but which instead led to the longest game of gay-or-straight in the history of Fashion Rio. Muscles, bracelets and well-groomed hair are standard issue for the male Carioca. But ultimately, the straight-guy clothing trifecta —T-shirt, jeans and Pumas—is a giveaway.

Jabour's collection reflected the party in a way: modern, dark, fun and romantic. Strapless party dresses were balanced by tight jeans and intarsia sweaters in abstract designs.

Juliana Jabour

But of all the natural wonders that Jabour's party had to offer, there was one that was very unwelcome: a fire. What started as a little flame wound up consuming a curtain and started to burn the plastic of an air conditioner. The smell and smoke were enough to kill a normal party, but not this one. Crowds shifted from the buffet to the dance floor, people who couldn't find a seat earlier now enjoyed the 19th-century chaise lounges and those eager waiters made their rounds through the smoke.

Eventually, the lights did go up—a sad moment indeed. The gang hopped over to the slick Fasano hotel, where models routinely roam the stark, modern interior. And thanks to them, all the ladies (even the journos) got to skip the 100 Real cover charge. Fasano has that intense sort of modernism that can make anything and everything seem ten times cooler than it actually is—even the journos.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fashion Rio: Day 4

By Pia Catton...

They do breed 'em tall here. Tall, thin and beautiful—so much so that Brazil could legitimately claim models as a main export. With so many Brazilian models in their own country for Fashion Rio, it might as well be Old Home week. The line-up at Cantão—one of the more fun and energetic shows—brought together a Brazilian beauty-fest: Isabeli Fontana, Aline Weber, Daiane Conterato, Ana Claudia Michaels, Bruna Tenorio and Gracie Carvalino. Of course, there's buzz on all of them: Ana Claudia is back—from the '90s—and looking good; Isabeli is here, period; Aline also opened the Printing show; Daiane and Bruna are as bewitching as ever; and Gracie is in rapid ascendance.


Why is it that Brazilians dominate the runways? Sure, it's in the mix of cultures—German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Dutch—but there's more to it than just genes. "To be a great model, it's not enough to be pretty," says Vogue Brazil's fashion editor Maria Prata, who shoots Brazilian models almost exclusively for the magazine. "Brazilian people have an allure that people all over the world recognize. They're easy-going. You have to always be in a good mood."

For a model, it's usually a quick step from Vogue Brazil to the international scene. But when Fashion Rio calls, these girls toss their quilted Chanel bags on their shoulders and strap in on the first flight home. After all, they've got the beach and parties at The Week, plus they are the envy of every little girl in the country.

And now, a moment for personal style. In the same way that French women can tie a scarf just so, Brazilian women have a way of making the maxi-dress and an armful of bangles look utterly natural. When New York women try it, the whole thing just looks too misplaced, too Long Island. I thought about trying it out down here, but why be a poser?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fashion Rio: Day 3

By Pia Catton...

Designers have been hot and bothered for the jumpsuit lately, making it an unlikely staple of collections in New York and Paris. Here, too, the adult onesie is on the runway and on the streets, but the shape is somehow more attractive in Rio. Cavendish, a popular Brazilian brand, showed strapless jumpsuits with pants that mimicked the wide-hip and tapered leg shape that's been going around. The cut is flattering and sexy, rather than look-I'm-wearing-a-jumpsuit. So if you've got to wear a jumpsuit, please, make it Brazilian.


One non-fashion high point of the day was a visit to the Roberto Burle Marx exhibit at the historic Paco Imperial, which, like many structures that once housed royalty, has been turned into an exhibition space. Marx is the artist who created the design for the beachfront sidewalk that runs along Rio's Avenida Atlantica. The squiggles and wavy shapes laid in Portugese tile are a pure example of form and function, landmark public art that thousands of people use every day. Sidewalks, though, were the least of it. His landscape design has been used for parks and public spaces all over the world, including Miami's Biscayne Boulevard, as well as hundreds of residential projects. The exhibit celebrated his 100th birthday and showed the extreme range of his output: large and small scale paintings, ceramics, jewelry and textiles—definitely worth getting off the beach for.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fashion Rio: Day 2

By Pia Catton...

It all seemed so matter-of-fact when they told us the Redley show would be "in another part of town." That other neck of the woods turned out to be the actual woods of Tijuca, a 32-square-kilometer rainforest that also happens to be the largest urban forest in the world.


Tijuca contains the enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks Rio. On this particular day, the forest also held about 500 fashion-goers. The four-designer team behind Redley opted to present its collection with models walking down a gently sloping stretch of road that cuts through the dense greenery. The show was called for 11 am, a time when sunlight is both dappled and beaming through the leaves, though a fog machine and music were added for ambiance, just in case.

As for the clothes, if you liked what they were wearing in that last Star Wars film, there's plenty here for you. It seems incongruous that a crunchy-sexy brand should make a collection with a military-of-the-future look, but that's what happens when you put sharp cotton jackets and gray pants with combat boots. Several knit dresses and leaf-print fabrics lightened the mood, but really, it was all about the forest. The icing on the nature cake was how perfectly our get-away was organized, so a big shout-out to the cheery walkie-talkie-wielding gals from the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry Association (ABIT), the group hosting us international press. And nothing makes me love Brazilian textiles like a van that's waiting and ready to roll.

Actually, designer Mara Mac also makes me happy about textiles, though I'm not sure where she finds them. Her collection, shown later in the day, was a veritable tea route that connected the fabric and designs of China, India and beyond. Models walked between huge mounds of green tea placed on a red lacquer runway, as sheer printed fabric evoked both the East and the Provencal countryside. Several pieces in a gray fabric looked just right for a long flight. But only first class would do for pants cut this chic.

Mara Mac

The best audience of the day was, by a long shot, at jeans brand TNG. Why? As a possible Backstreet Boy—who turned out to be soap opera star Caua Reymond—appeared on the runway, swaggering and flexing, his claque of adoring fans exploded. He beamed at them (a section of rowdy young boys who, if I had to guess, won some sort of contest for their seats) with a charm that seemed indigenous. Brazilian model Giane Albertoni and hot local newscaster Mariana Weiker also gave the show star power, but it was Reymond who made the kiddies lose it.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fashion Rio: Day 1

By Pia Catton...

It's Fashion Week in Rio de Janeiro (Fashion Rio) and it's already clear that the Cariocas have their own splashy way of doing things. On the banks of the Marina da Gloria (a large bay with a view of the massive Sugarloaf mountain with the Jesus statue), the city's fashion industry has set up a campus of tents that makes Bryant Park look like a shoe box. In addition to tents for the runway shows, there is a tent just for looking out onto the palm-tree-dotted harbor. It's the kind of set up that makes you want to declare residence.

And let's just pause to acknowledge one clever sponsor. Nivea has outfitted the men's and women's restrooms with not only soap and three kinds of hand lotion, but spray deodorant. And hell yes, I'm using it. It's 95 degrees here. But then again, sweating isn't something one has to apologize for in Rio. Mainly because no one apologizes for anything bodily here, not sweat, cellulite, body hair, spare tires, love handles—all of which was in full evidence on Ipanema Beach today, a Sunday in the middle of summer below the equator. The crush of humanity enjoying the waters provided plenty of people-watching, in not much clothing.

Sunday's few shows included Santa Ephigênia, a label so beloved by socialites that the well-dressed ladies of Rio packed the house and took up all the seats reserved for press. Entirely forgivable, though, as designers Marco Maia and Luciano Canale sent out an edgy but polished collection. Boxy, constructed jackets fell away from the body, and tapered pants seemed right on point. The metallic paillette dresses aren't going to be setting any new trends, but the collection was evidence that fashion here is thriving. Day 1 at Fashion Rio and things are looking good.

Santa Ephigênia

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