March 25, 2007
São Paulo’s Concrete Jungle
By JEFFRIES BLACKERBY
Rio may have samba and Speedos, but these days it's São Paulo that is swinging like the hips of the girl from Ipanema. Brazil's largest city — 11 million and counting — has transformed itself from a dull and featureless capital of finance into the epicenter of Brazilian culture, where art, architecture, design and fashion are flourishing.
"This is kind of an ugly-duckling story," says Waldick Jatobá, an art collector and executive at the Banco Privado Português. "Even though São Paulo has always been rich, people thought this was an ugly place." You did business here, then headed for the beach. So Paulistanos found other ways to create beauty; in Brazil, if you don't have the beach, you need something. So for São Paulo, food was the first wave; leading the way in the 1980s and '90s was Rogério Fasano, the owner of seven Italian restaurants in town and its finest hotel, Fasano. Other pioneers — furniture designers like the Campana brothers, fashion innovators such as Tufi Duek and Alexandre Herchcovitch, and gallerists like Luisa Strina — naturally began winning the city even more attention. As Jatobá puts it, "São Paulo started thinking of itself as First World."
Today the city itself isn't any more beautiful — there's just too much cinder-block sprawl — but it's buzzing with new talent and bold ideas. In Jardins, the city's answer to SoHo, every block offers an experimental clothing boutique or gleaming flagship store for one of Brazil's new design powerhouses. In the Higienópolis neighborhood, innovative chefs and night-life impresarios are opening doors. And even in the half-gentrified Vila Madalena district, sprouting up between the auto-repair shops are artists' collectives and open-air boîtes where hipsters cluster around bottles of beer on dry ice. São Paulo feels a bit like an urban artists' colony, a city that fosters pure creative expression without too much commercialism sullying the dream. How else do you explain the city's recent ban on outdoor advertising?
Of course, much of Brazil's global impact has been in the fashion world — just picture Gisele Bündchen in not much more than a pair of Havaianas flip-flops. Now 11 years old, São Paulo Fashion Week has gone from a novelty to a viable showcase of talent and trends. ‘‘The city is really just discovering fashion. It's becoming mainstream,'' says Cacá Ribeiro, who co-owns the high-end swimwear label Neon and runs a production company that stages fashion shows. (He also recently opened the nightclub Royal downtown. Many Paulistanos seem to have multi-hyphenate careers.) Still, some of Brazilian fashion's most important names — Glória Coelho and Reinaldo Lourenço, both current darlings of Vogue Brasil — are largely unfamiliar outside their country. But international success isn't necessarily the goal for emerging talent; there are plenty of stylish folks right at home. Ribeiro, for his part, says that the success of Neon, now sold in about 60 stores around Brazil, is due solely to the Brazilian market: ‘‘Everyone's talking about fashion. You can feel the vibrations of new stuff happening.''
The cosmos of style has many orbits, and few are as interconnected as those in São Paulo. In a country where 2.4 percent of the population is wealthy, according to a study from the State University of Campinas, it's no surprise the people with money all seem to know each other. (Paulistanos keep their circles tight for security reasons too; kidnappings and carjackings are a fact of life.) Yet there is a collaborative spirit here that transcends the ordinary social whirl. For example, at a new cultural center called Escola São Paulo, the director Isabella Prata hosts lectures and offers courses to the public ranging from toy design to film directing. In the lounge and garden, students loll about in low-slung chairs; at Escola events, São Paulo's most influential tastemakers — such as the designer Cris Barros, the photographer Bob Wolfenson and the architect Isay Weinfeld — mingle as if they were at a cookout on someone's roof.
Eduardo Brandão, the co-director of Galeria Vermelho, which serves as a similar kind of idea lab for artists of every stripe, suggests that such a collegiate environment might disintegrate in a city with more resources, like New York . Not that São Paulo isn't a place of accomplishment — Vermelho sold almost everything it brought this year to Art Basel Miami, mostly to American collectors. All this bonhomie among the creative class is simply a product of its freshness and enthusiasm.
‘‘In New York,'' says Jatobá, who lived in Manhattan from 1996 to 2000 , ‘‘people sniff each other first. Here, we don't sniff. We just circulate. Maybe it's our tropical nature.'' Or it might be that the circle of tastemakers is small enough that everyone is a friend. (When you spot a Campana brothers' chair in someone's apartment, chances are the owner will tell you the designers are ‘‘supernice guys.'') In any case, that circle seems to be ever-expanding. ‘‘This city demands people to be cultural,'' Jatobá says, ‘‘to be interested in design, film, art, architecture.'' And in São Paulo, it's not all been done before.
Emiliano The décor is looking dated now, but for really high rollers, this is the place: the hotel has its own helicopter pad. Rua Oscar Freire, 384; 011-55-11-3068-4399; www .emiliano.com.br; doubles from about $360. Fasano Sixty rooms done in decadent, 1930sgangster style. Jardins location and well-connected owner make it the meeting spot for local swells. Rua Vittorio Fasano, 88. 011-55-11-3896-4000; doubles from $440. Hotel Unique What it lacks in location (between Jardins and Ibirapuera park) it makes up for with Ruy Ohtake's soaring design and a sceney rooftop pool. Avenida Brigadeiro Luis Antonio, 4700; 011-55-11-3055-4710; www .hotelunique.com.br; doubles from about $470.
RESTAURANTS AND CAFES
Carlota Carla Pernambuco's beloved fusion place in a lovely old house in Higienópolis. Rua Sergipe, 753; 011-55-11- 3661-8670; entrees about $21 to $31. D.O.M. Alex Atala's menu includes dishes like fried oysters with tapioca. Rua Barão de Capanema, 549; 011-55-11- 3088-0761; entrees $27 to $53. Due Cuochi Cucina The latest hard-to-book Italian, in Itaim Bibi. Rua Manoel Guedes, 93; 011-55-11-3078-8092; entrees $13 to $24. Gero The younger, more cawsual sister of the restaurant in the Fasano hotel. Rua Haddock Lobo, 1629; 011-55-11-3064-0005; entrees about $20 to $35. Ritz This casual Itaim Bibi grill draws businessmen by day and a gay crowd by night. Alameda Franca, 1088; 011-55-11-3088-6808; entrees $13 to $17. Salve Jorge Retractable roof plus sexy crowd plus beer on dry ice equals party waiting to happen. In Vila Madalena. Rua Aspicuelta, 544; 011-55-11-3815-0705; entrees $12 to $21. Santo Grão Café e Bistrot Coffee served to a shopping-bag-laden crowd in Jardins. Rua Oscar Freire, 413; 011-55-11-3082-9969. Shimo Where high design meets Japanese fusion (Paulistanos are obsessed with sushi). Rua Jerônimo da Veiga, 74; 011-55-11-3167-2222; entrees $11 to $36. Sophia Bistrot Chic new spot right by Isabela Capeto's boutique in Jardins. Rua da Consolação, 3368; 011- 55-11-3081-7698; entrees $20 to $26. Spot After 13 years, still the hottest table for brunch. Rua Ministro Rocha Azevedo, 72; 011-55-11-3283-0946; entrees $15 to $25.
The best shopping is concentrated in a few square blocks of Jardins. You'll find the designers who show at São Paulo Fashion Week, including Isabela Capeto (Rua da Consolação, 3358; 011-55-11- 3898-1878), Reinaldo Lourenço (Rua Bela Cintra, 2167; 011-55-11-3085-8150), Glória Coelho (Rua Bela Cintra, 2173; 011-55-11-3085-6671), Cris Barros (Rua Oscar Freire, 295; 011-55-11-3082-3621), Adriana Barra (Rua Peixoto Gomide, 1801; 011-55-11-3062- 0387), Alexandre Herchcovitch (Rua Haddock Lobo, 1151; 011-55-11-3063- 2888), Osklen (Rua Oscar Freire, 645; 011-55-11-3083- 7977) and Tufi Duek at Forum (Rua Oscar Freire, 916; 011-55- 11-3085-6269). Clube Chocolate (Rua Oscar Freire, 913; 011-55-11-3084-1500) sells a number of Brazilian designers mixed in with American jeans from True Religion. Sprinkled around Jardins are design shops such as Passado Composto (Rua da Consolação, 3198; 011-55-11-3064-0805), with its collection of vintage chandeliers, and the pitchperfect modernist emporium Mi Casa (Rua Estados Unidos, 2109; 011-55-11-3088-1238). Two other can't-miss shops are Esencial in Itaim Bibi (Rua Araçari, 246; 011-55-11-3168- 5601), for jewelry and home items from across the country, and Ovo in Vila Olímpia (Rua Gomes de Carvalho, 830; 011- 55-11-3045-0309), which sells the sleek furniture and lighting of Gerson de Oliveira and Luciana Martins. Vila Madalena is also full of little boutiques and galleries: Cas (Rua Fidalga, 317; 011-55-11-3032-8455) is an avant-garde clothing shop; Espaço Ophicina (Rua Aspicuelta, 329; 011-55-11- 3813-8466) sells the work of emerging local photographers.
Galeria Fortes Vilaça Represents stars of Brazilian art like Beatriz Milhazes and Vik Muniz. Rua Fradique Coutinho, 1500; 011-55-11- 3032-7066; www.fortesvilaca .com.br. Galeria Leme Shows contemporary work from mostly-under-35 artists in a dramatic space designed by Paulo Mendes de Rocha. Rua Agostinho Cantu, 88; 011-55-11-3814-8184; www .galerialeme.com. Galeria Luisa Strina A pioneer in São Paulo and the first Latin American gallery to show at Art Basel. Rua Oscar Freire, 502; 011-55-11- 3088-2471; www.galeria luisastrina.com.br. Galeria Nara Roesler Shows work by artists including Tomie Ohtake and Dino Bruzzone. Avenida Europa, 655; 011-55-11-3063-2344; www.nararoesler.com.br Galeria Vermelho Vibrant center of artistic crosspollination on the edge of Higienópolis. Rua Minas Gerais, 350; 011-55-11-3257-2033; www.galeriavermelho.com.br.