Jun 17, 2008
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Glamour and business mix it up on Sao Paulo's catwalks

Jun 17, 2008

SAO PAULO, June 17, 2008 (AFP) - Latin America's most important fashion event, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week, opened Tuesday June 17th with much attention on shows due to feature supermodels Naomi Campbell, Giselle Bundchen and Raquel Zimmerman.

A model wears a design from Do Estilista collection during the Sao Paulo Fashion Week Spring Summer 2009 in Sao Paulo, Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Photo : Nelson Antoine/AFP

But off the catwalk, another sort of spectacle was transfixing the invited celebrities and the wealthy.

A business fiasco involving an investment fund's attempt to buy some of the biggest labels in Brazilian fashion has severely dented egos and finances.

One of the hottest brands included in the acquisition spree, Zoomp, has even pulled out of Fashion Week, citing "restructuring" problems.

Brazil's top designer, Alexandre Herchovitch, told the O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper that he was "tricked" by the fund, and said he too almost didn't make the show.

The matter revolves around a move by a new company, Identidade Moda, to buy Zoomp, Herchcovitch and other brands Fause Haten, Clube Chocolate and Cumplice this year.

The drive was initially hailed as a coming-of-age in Brazil's press, seen as confirmation that its fashion was finally being taken seriously on the world stage and deep pockets were going to finance its expansion abroad.

"Now we are at a point where our fashion is professionalized, and that's why big groups are starting to see fashion not just as a game but as big business," Maria Prata, fashion editor for Vogue Brasil, told AFP.

Identidade Moda is controlled by an investment fund, HLDC. The fund's president, Vicente Mello said in January he had ambitions to turn it into a Brazilian equivalent of French luxury giant LVMH.

But the plans faltered, and Brazilian fashionistas have taken to snickering that Identidade Moda's logo -- I'M -- no longer means "I am" but "I was."

According to an angry Herchovitch, "they wanted to buy my labels without having the money."

He said he pulled out of the deal in April, but had to scramble to get clothing production underway to save his labels -- and his reputation.

The upset sent a chill over the organization of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week, a 4.5-million-dollar event that this year has a Japanese theme reflecting celebrations across Brazil marking the centenary of Japanese immigration.

But Paulo Borges, the chief organizer of the fashion week, told the Gazeta Mercantil financial newspaper that the business fiasco was a rite of passage.

"We are drinking bitter medicine, but it's necessary so that this experience serves as a transformation for the future," he said.

Borges's hope, and that of the designers, is that the I'M mess will be forgotten as the shows take center stage.

The first show of the week, by the Rio de Janeiro brand Osklen, was packed with jostling photographers and cameramen.

Designer Oskar Metsavaht sent forth models wearing summer-flimsy skirts and dresses that floated as they walked, with loose light gray or white numbers sometimes given a sheen that evoked elegant days on the beach.

Later, Fashion Week will deliver more celebrity punch than usual.

Kenzo Takada, the 68-year-old veteran designer and founder of the Kenzo label, is on hand to reinforce the Japanese theme, and to dole out fashion insight in a presentation on Saturday.

And the supermodels, of course, will be scene-stealers when they strut down the catwalk later this week.

Zimmerman is to appear late Thursday for the brand Animale, and Bundchen will provide something of a climax to the week late on Sunday, when she parades for Colcci.

But Campbell's turn is less-than-certain.

The British supermodel is reportedly meant to spice up a men's swimwear collection by the label Rosa Cha on Saturday.

However, the day before, she is due in court to answer charges of allegedly assaulting a police officer at London's Heathrow airport on April 3.by Marc Burleigh

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