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In Focus: Dragão Fashion Brasil

Brazil is, as you might expect, a paradise. Hundreds of miles of golden beaches, jawdropping mountains and jungle, a Latin atmosphere in a tropical climate and of course, the most beautiful people in the world. But what if its growing fashion industry? If you’re a regular reader of industry insider’s news portal Business of Fashion, or just know what BRIC stands for, then you’ll know that the balance of economic and social power is transferring to countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China. Brazil’s economic boom has kickstarted all of the country’s industries, and fashion is no exception.

Brazil has three main fashion weeks: Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro are the main centres of fashion, and each reflects its own general vibe. SP showcases internationally-known designers and leads the way for the Brazilian fashion industry; RJ is all about the glamour and sex of beachwear. Yep, there’s more to beachwear than those Quiksilver boardshorts you’ve been wearing for the last decade – Brazilian culture revolves around the beach, and its tropical climate means that an entirely new class of clothing is required – in the same way that we Brits keep umbrellas, waterproofs and cosy jumpers for the inevitable rainy day, Brazilians have a beach wardrobe. The beach, as someone reliably informed me, is the red carpet of Brazil.

But I digress: there is a third fashion week, Dragão Fashion Brasil (DFB). Held away from the centres of economy and business in Fortaleza, in the north of the country, DFB is a melting pot of young design talent, brimful of ideas that sometimes are deeply attractive to a European eye, and sometimes perhaps more destined for a domestic market. This is the kinda place where hidden gems are unearthed, and nascent design talent is first seen – after all, with such a massively expanding global presence, who’s to say that in a decade’s time, some of these designers may well be at the helm of global luxury houses or fronting their own cult labels?

As a showcase, DFB operates slightly differently to a normal catwalk show. Run primarily by the local Culture Ministry, seating is democratic and open to the public, and while press are an element of the shows, the focus is definitely on the young talent and the people around it. The major employer in Cearà state (of which Fortaleza is the capital) is local fabric factories like the enormous Vicunha plant,which is the 4th largest in the world. Fabric factories were moved here in the 1970s as a result of government subsidies to increase employment in the region, and their slick machinery and skilled workers result in quality output that adheres to the strictest rules of worker’s rights. DFB therefore is fashion as an exercise in soft power; the fashion industry has to not only demonstrate its importance but also the ultimate glamour and excitement that it generates in its end product as well as being a social occasion that centres around clothing and new ideas.

And so to the shows. With a mix of menswear and womenswear on most catwalks, there were always new ideas and innovative ways of presenting them. This willingness to embrace the designer’s creativity and vision (as well as most of the designers being new to us) meant that the week was full of surprises – good and bad. I reckoned that those designers that thought carefully about their footwear and designed some in house, or collaborated with a brand on shoes, tended to be more successful than those who borrowed from another retailer.

carol Carol Barreto’s sharp, minimal tailoring really impressed: exaggerated accessories and rope neckpieces lent a playful air to her clean aesthetic. Asymmetric tailoring embraced its imperfections and felt glamorous – but not over-the-top glamourous – while also being eminently wearable. Props for the caramel sequin numbers too.

ivanSeeing clothes inspired by Regency-style fabric patterns and Russian winters wasn’t really what I was expecting from DFB, but that made Ivan Aguilar’s show all the more fantastic. Like a softer version of London’s David Koma, Aguilar played with femininity and skater skirts, creating dresses and coats that thrived on oversize details and sleeve motifs, mixed with a coherent hemline and, more importantly, a coherent story to the whole collection. At times almost feeling 1970s secretary with pussybow blouses, Aguilar’s collection stole the week and sparkled without dazzling.

giselaGisela Frank’s collection was another sharp, minimal affair – focusing instead of unusual fabrications and off-kilter colour combos – the played with textures, raw edging and neutral tones. Texture was particularly important: Frank’s origami-esque mix of woven fabrics, lace, leather and pleating took inspiration from Issey Miyake, and while some pieces were perhaps a little over-complex, the whole thing felt very fresh and contemporary.

vitorinoWith pool sliders and sheer layers of silk, Vitorino Campos showcased a collection that was the ultimate in poolside glamour for goths. Pool sliders, screenprinted crosses and a dark palette were mixed with aplomb; I especially loved the gossamer-then pale silk layers over prints; dulling the effect but keeping the vitality of the print alive. Shapes took influences from Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy’s exploration of sportswear and the ‘90s, Campos’ blend of these things proved to be a sleek, glossy and ice-cool offering.

marioIn menswear, four collections really stood out. Mario Queiroz’ Riviera slant on Miami Vice tailoring soon developed into a really strong full wardrobe collection that mixed conceptual pieces, beachwear, formal and street and also played with ideas of gender and masculinity.

jonathanscarpAn Italian national from Brazil, Jonathan Scarpari blended his origins into a sleek, sharp collection that, like Queiroz’, played with gender. Perhaps in an even stronger way, for Scarpari’s collection was stricter in colour and cut, and riffed on a number of trends from LCM, not least the JW Anderson-esque leather shorts, deconstructed collars and plunging proportions. Accessories like the sandal-shoe hybrids and the boxy clutch bags were particularly brilliant too.

davidleeDavid Lee’s show could only be described as intensely romantic: models with smudged lipstick and flowers in their hair showcased Lee’s genuinely playful approach to tailoring. Bustle-back shirts, asymmetric jackets and beautiful floral prints as well as choice rucksacks showed Lee’s design talent. I’d venture to say that this show was perhaps a touch overstyled: details like the gorgeous carabiner and rope fastenings can be easily lost when there’s too many other elements at work: complex designs deserve simple styling to make them pop. Great shirts though.

nunogamaNuno Gama’s collection was heavy on the homoeroticism, but unusual in its execution for concealing rather than being revealing. Contrast-panel jackets and smart shoes, ultra-tight suits and sharp casualwear were rendered in luxe materials like fur, astrakhan and crocodile, giving a high-end feel: something akin to AMI meeting Thom Browne. The suede walking boot/monkstap hybrid shoes were definitely a highlight.

linovLino Villaventura is a local boy who has made good and become a designer who everyone in the country knows. He showcased a remarkable homecoming show of gorgeous flowing crepe de chine bias-cut dresses that fluttered and billowed down the catwalk. He also structured his show as a retrospective, showcasing different eras of his career, bookending chapters with the male models and letting the female models and their clothing luxuriate in their drama: inspiration ranging from African tribalism to House of Flying Daggers. Villaventura’s show was cinematic in its use of colour and texture, and dramatic in its choreography and music, and showed that he is a true master of the catwalk – and a beacon to local up-and-comers.

otherElsewhere, there was plenty of beachwear (and Brazilian models). Atelier Criativo’s pairing of Mar del Castro with Jomara Cid resulting in some tiny shorts for boys, while lauded Brazilian label Agua de Coco showed some classically carioca bikinis, and Lindebergue Fernandes closed their show with a fabulous drag queen. Mark Greiner made the unusual, but exceptionally memorable, decision to close his show with a minotaur, which was probably the runway spectacle of the week.

- Seb Law

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