Ten years ago São Paulo’s Campana brothers exploded on the international scene, exhibiting their radical shantytown-chic chairs, sofas, and accessories assembled from quotidian bric-a-brac (pizza pans, Bubble Wrap piping, and wooden slats) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and emerging as Brazil’s creative wunderkinds. The city’s style scene followed suit: Its fashion week debuted in 1996 and soon began attracting buyers and journalists from around the world; Vogue declared the return of the model-with-curves, putting local girl Gisele Bündchen on its cover in 1999; and designer Carlos Miele came to New York fashion week in fall 2002, opening his iconic store in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District the following year. Much to the chagrin of its Argentine rival, Buenos Aires, São Paulo has now established itself as the style capital of South America.
“The scene in Buenos Aires is classical. But São Paulo is at the creative vanguard,” says local architect and native Argentine Juan Pablo Rosenberg. “The arts and cultural scene is on a different scale from anywhere else on the continent, and fashion week here is the biggest and most influential show south of the U.S.A.” There is simply nowhere better for cutting-edge fashion, accessories, furniture, and design objects.
Shopping here isn’t easy, however. Unlike Buenos Aires, São Paulo has never courted visitors, and it guards its secrets well. Concrete high-rises almost identical in their gray anonymity line street after street. But hidden inside are bright jewel boxes: intimate boutiques and megamalls alike, showcasing new designs that combine a lush tropicália of South American color with a more muted international, contemporary aesthetic.
Today a series of clearly identifiable neighborhoods have formed here, defining the shopping scene. Now there is a specific district for local fashion’s latest arrivals, one for its classic brands, another for the best of South American furniture and home decor, and yet another where the city’s two luxury malls rise on either side of the Pinheiros River.
Fashion Firsts: Vila Madalena
Located in the Pinheiros District, in the western part of the city, Vila Madalena is São Paulo’s equivalent of New York’s Williamsburg and London’s Notting Hill, with fresh local labels crammed into steep streets beside bars, cafés, and small music venues like Grazie a Dio! and Diquinta. At the three-year-old Dona Pink flagship, shoppers browse designer Luciana Papaspyrou’s light patchwork and stamped cotton dresses, while at the longer-established Santa Paciência, they go for handmade children’s clothes with a Brazil–meets–rural France look (call it tropico-provençale).
Most iconic of all, though, is Ronaldo Fraga, which opened last year and “is to Vila Madalena what the neighborhood is to the rest of the city: an artistic, creative, and cultural reference point,” says Mariana Soldi, producer of the cult Tropicália band Os Mutantes. Owner Fraga, who attended New York’s Parsons and London’s Central Saint Martins design schools, creates clothes in bright natural materials, retaining a unified look across his men’s and women’s collections, which are especially popular with twenty- and thirtysomethings. Quirky clogs resemble Volkswagen Beetles—with little windshields—and his handmade one- of-a-kind off-the-shoulder cotton blouses are a coveted fashion item among young creatives.
A few hundred yards away, another pioneer, Raquel and Roberto Davidowicz’s UMA, offers a contrast, with sleek women’s blouses, skirts, and dresses and men’s jeans and shirts displayed against low-lit white walls. Raquel got deeply into the Japanese aesthetic of the eighties. “The designs merge that minimalism with a certain Brazilian vibrancy,” says Brazilian Vogue fashion writer Adriana Bechara, “juxtaposing monochromes and living color.” Davidowicz’s current collection plays with fabric, using unexpected materials like organic white cotton treated to stay permanently wavy and crimped and shiny cotton-elastane, which has the feel of an ultrasmooth polyester-Lycra hybrid but is woven like fine silk.
Design District: Alameda Gabriel Monteiro Da Silva
Vila Madalena offers housewares as well as fashion—the handcrafted neo–Art Nouveau objects at designer Vera Madeira and Cynthia Gyuru’s 13-year-old showroom Olá are very much in vogue. But shoppers will find the more famous São Paulo design names just south of there, on Alameda Gabriel Monteiro da Silva. Although its stores have been open for some time, the area is just now earning an international reputation for design shopping. Firma Casa, for one, represents the Campana brothers, selling a line of their chairs available only in Brazil, like the limited-edition Poltrona Banquete children’s chairs, constructed from dozens of toy stuffed animals. And the cavernous Dpot stocks modernist leather and stainless-steel pieces by Pritzker prize–winning Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, whose works dot São Paulo and include the dramatic transformation of the 20th-century neoclassical brick building that houses the city’s premier national art collection, the Pinacoteca do Estado. Etel Interiores sells fashionable contemporary wood furniture and accessories by established paulistano designers like store owner Lissa Carmona. Two of the newest offerings are a low-slung glossy hardwood Zezinho sideboard by architect Isay Weinfeld—similar to those he did for the rooms of the city’s stylish Fasano hotel—and the chunky, rustic-chic Tucano dining table hewn from a vast block of sustainably sourced Amazon hardwood, designed by Carmona herself. The modernist lighting store Lumini counts architect Marcio Kogan among its clients; he’s responsible for the exterior of the Fasano and for Rio’s Casa Du Plessis, one of South America’s most talked-about beach houses. The shop sells a range of lamps and shades and won a silver medal this year from the Industrial Designers Society of America for its energy-efficient Super Bossa ceiling fixture, an aluminum half-moon with an adjustable shade and an ingeniously simple pull mechanism.
The Classic Brands: Jardins
The area known as Jardins—a cluster of chic neighborhoods just south of the city’s old commercial heart on Avenida Paulista—has long been the fashion center, and all its classic labels are represented here. At Herchcovitch sharply tailored cotton men’s suits look as if they’re from the Matrix, and at the three-floor boutique department store Clube Chocolate a potpourri of Brazilian and international design labels hang side by side—Jean Paul Gaultier tops, say, next to summery beach frocks from Rio designer Isabela Capeto. For jewelry there’s the opulent emerald and diamond rings and necklaces of Jack Vartanian as well as the comparatively understated contemporary work at Antonio Bernardo.
All these are well-known names—with good reason—on the paulista shopping circuit, but the biggest news in Jardins is just across the street from the Fasano, where the Cris Barros flagship opened in May. The cavernous white cube, dominated by a towering wall covered with a lush filigree of thousands of verdant—but artificial—tropical vines, shows off the society fashion designer’s formal women’s line. Barros unabashedly mixes styles, from local beachy to Asianesque to evening gowns for girls-about-town. This season’s skirts and dresses flow in light silks printed with Oriental florals inspired by Barros’s recent visit to Bhutan. “Cris is very São Paulo,” says Camila Belchior, personal shopper for Matueté, a local boutique-tour company. “She gives young, successful, hip working women the space to be sexy.”
Jardins isn’t strictly about fashion, however. A ten-minute walk north of Cris Barros is local secret Garimpo + Fuxique, a housewares shop that’s as young, vivid, and colorful as carnaval. Owned by designer Ana Strumpf and opened in 2003, the store showcases unique handmade decorative objects by Brazilian talents. Bold prints cover a variety of pillows, and psychedelic upholstery covers mock-Edwardian chaise longues. The Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé inspired a range of kitschy, poster paint–colored tabletop statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There are smaller accessories by a range of designers, too: big, puffy satin handbags by local artist Xaa, Art Nouveau–meets–Victoriana porcelain by Calu Fontes of Bahia, and reproduction Renaissance and Victorian pastoral prints embroidered with occasionally witty graffiti by Felipe Morozini. In the spirit of the Campana brothers, Strumpf herself recycles various bits of design flotsam—forgotten fabrics left in the corner of a fashion warehouse; stamps and Technicolor prints from fifties São Paulo; lacy, thick raw cotton from Brazil’s northeast—and turns them into one-of-a-kind patchwork bedspreads, cushion covers, fat leather notebooks, sofas, and armchairs. “Garimpo means ‘sifting through the dirt to find gold or precious stones,’ ” Strumpf says, revealing the secret of both her aesthetic and at least half of the store’s name.
Mall Walking: The banks of the Pinheiros
With the June opening of Shopping Cidade Jardim, the city’s street-based boutique shopping scene expanded into São Paulo’s newest mall. Filled with Brazilian and international names, from Carlos Miele to Hermès, the Cidade Jardim sits in a neoclassical edifice with a tropical garden inside and an apartment block towering above. Top shops here are the new Carlos Miele flagship, an 8,000-square-foot space whose undulating lines were inspired by the curves of the human body, and Osklen, whose casual beach and adventure clothes look for all the world like Ralph Lauren gone tropical and are aimed at a similar yacht-and-boardwalk crowd. There’s a spa at the mall, too, launching early next year, as well as a branch of the Fasano hotel group’s informal Italian bistro Nonno Ruggero and an outpost of the popular upscale Brazilian-Japanese chain Kosushi.
Cidade Jardim picks up on an idea originated by its older rival, Daslu, the first high-end boutique mall in the city, located just across the Pinheiros River from Cidade Jardim. Once housed in a series of interlinked shops that occupied almost an entire street in a quiet São Paulo neighborhood, Daslu is now the local version of Barneys or Harrods. The news here is Village Daslu, a mall-within-a-mall that opened at the beginning of this year to showcase the best of São Paulo’s young designers, Cris Barros included. This is the place for the contemporary, low-profile look of Raia de Goeye, founded by two former models, and the knitwear of exciting arrival Juliana Jabour, which offers chic looks at relatively low prices. Designer Jabour’s pieces are as fashionable as $1,500 Cris Barros silk evening gowns but sell for around half that. Like Cidade Jardim, Daslu offers a complete retail experience, with cafés for lunch and intimate restaurants like Bel Coelho’s Buddha Bar for late-night dining and drinking. Visitors almost never have to leave. But that’s a dreadful idea in labyrinthine São Paulo, where there is always so much to discover.
While São Paulo has no new hotels of note (the three best places to stay remain the Fasano, the Emiliano, and the Unique, all überdesign-conscious and located in Jardins), the last two years have seen a run of exciting restaurants opening throughout the city.
Buddha Bar, at the top of the Daslu mall, opened this past December. Its chef, Bel Coelho, is only in her late twenties but has a distinguished pedigree, having apprenticed with São Paulo star French chef Laurent Suaudeau before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. And she’s stirred the ladles in two of São Paulo’s finest kitchens (the Fasano and D.O.M.) as well as at the Michelin two-star Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. The restaurant itself is a swankier, São Paulo–ized version of the Buddha Bars of Europe, with chill-out music provided by a series of resident DJs, a central circular bar area, and an enormous sculpture of the eponymous holy man watching over ranks of wood tables. The food is fusion; Brazil and Asia and Europe mingle in a series of light dishes, such as the excellent robalo crocante com pupunha assada e molho de castanha de caju (crispy bass with roasted peach-palm berries and Brazil nut–and–cashew sauce). The clientele is generally young and trendy.
São Paulo’s other restaurant of the moment is Kinoshita, operating since March in the quiet upmarket neighborhood of Vila Nova Conceição. Cooking is by the Japanese Brazilian chef Tsuyoshi Murakami, who honed his skills at Tokyo’s century-old Ozushi restaurant before running Shabu Shabu in New York and Kiyokata in Barcelona. He specializes in classic kappo cuisine (cooked dishes) plus his own Japanese-Brazilian fusion creations. First-timers should try the degustation menu.
Since it opened in 2006, Ana Luiza Trajano’s cozy Brasil a Gosto—tucked away on a quiet street in Jardins—has become a favorite weekend lunch spot for paulistanos who are tired of feijoada, the traditional Sunday stew, but are still enamored of Brazilian cooking. The food is simple comfort fare, but it comes with a wonderful story. Trajano spent several years traveling throughout Brazil— from the backwaters of the Amazon to the backlands of the northeastern desert—collecting recipes from local people. She presents the results from her home-cooking classes on white porcelain, serving dishes like peacock bass baked in banana leaves and served with boiled cassava seasoned with basil sauce. The degustation menu offers a taste from almost every corner of the country: tiger prawns from Santa Catarina in the south, piracui fish balls from the Amazon, tapioca with shore crab and coconut from Bahia. Trajano herself is always available to tell the tale of her culinary journey.
Antonio Bernardo2063 Rua Bela Cintra; 55-11/3083-5622; antoniobernardo.com.br
Carlos MieleShopping Cidade Jardim, 12000 Avda. Magalhães de Castro, 1st fl.; 55-11/3552-4400; carlosmiele.com
Clube Chocolate913 Rua Oscar Freire; 55-11/3084-1500
Firma Casa1487 Al. Gabriel Monteiro da Silva; 55-11/3068-0377; firmacasa.com.br
Cris Barros85 Rua Vitório Fasano; 55-11/3082-3621; crisbarros.com.br
Daslu131 Avda. Chedid Jafet; 55-11/3841-4000; daslu.com.br
Dona Pink218 Rua Harmonia; 55-11/3032-8227; donapink.com.br
Dpot1250 Al. Gabriel Monteiro da Silva; 55-11/3043-9159; dpot.com.br
Etel Interiores1834 Al. Gabriel Monteiro da Silva; 55-11/3064-1266; etelinteriores.com.br
Garimpo + Fuxique1677 Rua Bela Cintra; 55-11/3081-0107; garimpo-fuxique.com.br
Herchcovitch1151 Rua Haddock Lobo; 55-11/3063-2888;herchcovitch.uol.com.br
Jack Vartanian1592 Rua Haddock Lobo; 55-11/3062-2349; jackvartanian.com
Juliana JabourDaslu, 131 Avda. Chedid Jafet; 55-11/3044-4702; julianajabour.com.br
Lumini1441 Al. Gabriel Monteiro Silva; 55-11/3898-0222; lumini.com.br
Olá1340 Rua Fradique Coutinho; 55-11/3815-2549; olaloja.com.br
OsklenShopping Cidade Jardim, 12000 Avda. Magalhães de Castro, 1st fl.; 55-11/3758-5035; osklen.com
Raia de GoeyeDaslu, 131 Avda. Chedid Jafet; 55-11/3079-3301; raiadegoeye.com.br
Ronaldo Fraga259 Rua Aspicuelta; 55-11/3816-2181; ronaldofraga.com.br
Santa Paciência170 Rua Girassol; 55-11/3814-9188;
Shopping Cidade Jardim12000 Avda. Magalhães de Castro; 55-11/3552-1000; cidadejardimshopping.com.br
UMA273 Rua Girassol; 55-11/3813-5559; uma.com.br
EmilianoFrom $600 to $1,100. 384 Rua Oscar Freire; 55-11/3069-4369; emiliano.com.br
FasanoFrom $620 to $2,350. 88 Rua Vitório Fasano; 55-11/3896-4000; fasano.com.br
UniqueFrom $415 to $6,000. 4700 Avda. Brigadeiro Luís Antônio; 55-11/3055-4710; hotelunique.com.br