In the perpetual battle for supremacy between Brazil’s biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro may rule for sporting events and street parties, but when it comes to retail São Paulo wears the crown. I saw this for myself as a speaker at the LATAM Retail Show 2015 (24th-27th August), held at São Paulo’s Expo Center Norte.
Joining a line-up of speakers from brands such as New Balance and Bilder en de Clercq, my own talk discussed ‘The future of retail is… personalised… intuitive… seamless… engaging’, with an audience of around 250 people. I also spoke on the subject at a RDI event at the Latin American Institute of Art that same week, where I caught a look at a wonderful student art exhibition showcasing responses to a ‘Hello Kitty’ brief.
Luckily I had some time to go explore the city, too. In São Paulo, concrete is king. Brutalist architecture is smothered with lush South American vegetation in a dystopian landscape of graffiti and gangs, where football is a religion.
Last time I visited, in October 2014, I remember city the being full of flowers, plagued with drought and fired up over the presidential elections. It seems that in the past year not much has changed: there’s a new president, but she is just as disliked as her predecessor, the water supply to the city is still a huge issue, and the flowers are as beautiful as before. The traffic is always hellish, but at least when stopping at junctions you can see locals showcasing their football skills in a South American spectacle of entertainment and entrepreneurial spirit.
This time round I was lucky to get a taste of the city’s most salubrious sides as a guest of Manoel Alves Lima, founder of Brazilian creative agency FAL Design and Vice-President of the São Paulo Chapter of the Retail Design Institute (RDI). It turns out that country clubs are a big feature of São Paulo life, with several of these urban oases giving breathing space in the heart of the city. I spent a fabulous day at the Hipica Paulista Country Club with Manoel, watching his daughter practise dressage in the largest covered horse arena in South America. The 1930s clubhouse was everything you would expect from an establishment serving the São Paulo elite – a swimming pool, gym, barbeque, bar, restaurant and grand reception hall decked with flags and equine memorabilia.
Manoel also took me to the fantastic shopping destination of Vila Madalena, a haven for the trendy shopper. This is the Soho of São Paulo, with a textured mix of fashion, furniture and food, and a hangout in the warm evenings for the local fashionistas. The tour began with a look at Batman Alley. The graffiti-clad walls of this cobbled backstreet are a colourful explosion of creativity, political statement and social comment.
Graffiti is an ever-present virus that spreads itself across most derelict buildings and civic amenities; walkways, road bridges and under-passes become impromptu art galleries. It’s an integral presence in the city, like it or not an essential feature of this city. Personally I like it – it seems to suit the dystopian architecture and sits well in this truly urban jungle. It’s also a reaction to the poverty and dangers present in this city. I was advised not to walk alone on any street other than main thoroughfares and avoid wearing an expensive watch (not a problem for me as I don’t wear a watch).
Anyway, back to Vila Madalena. Here are some of the most inspiring stores I came across in this neighbourhood:
Rua Harmonia, 71
Founded by interior designer Felipe Protti, here you’ll come across furniture and objects created by his friends along with a workshop, design studio and bar.
Rua Harmonia, 101
Another cool hybrid space, this hangar-like furniture store-cum-architect’s studio has architectural models hung on the walls and 1950s timber furniture.
Apparently the new Brazilian Ikea, Oppa is a casual and colourful contrast to the Scandinavian brand.
You know you’re somewhere a little exotic when you discover a surf shop mixed in with furniture stores. Atmospheric and inspiring with the colour and the promise of catching the surf.
An illegal artisan cheese shop! Yes, that’s a real thing – due to government restrictions about selling unpasteurised dairy this place is on the wrong side of the law but it has a legion of local fans. Expect a huge array of handmade product and pungent aromas!
Caio de Medeiros (designer and artist) and Daniela Scorza (architect and artist) have created a contemporary version of a Cabinet of Curiosities. Limited edition furniture sits beside antiques, ethnic accessories and curiosities, including a remarkable collection of antique Japanese dolls.
One to watch – owner/designer Renato Guidolim has a unique São Paulo take on urban, music-inspired street fashion. I liked it so much, I bought a t-shirt! They had a great tag line, ‘Keep disturbing’.
I’d also recommend a walk down Rua Oscar Freire:
A precursor to the amazing new Oxford Street flagship,São Paolo has one of the largest Lush stores in the world, complete with a spa and furniture made from reclaimed wood.
The original and the best, this large, welcoming space full of colour, texture and fun just draws you in. Light floods in from skylights onto the lush tropical greenery.
Small, but worth a look for its unique products and good visual merchandising.
A sweet, irreverent new cosmetics brand from regional beauty giant Grupo Boticário that’s gaining fans quickly. The modest store is full of youthful personality, with an affordable and approachable feel.
No walk down Oscar Freire would be complete without a visit to Melissa. Now open in London’s Covent Garden, this fashion-forward footwear brand captures Brazilian spirit in its art-filled space, ever changing to reflect new seasons and new artists.
Finally, I can’t end without a thank you to George Homer, President of RDI Brazil for showing me around Cidade Jardim Mall. Also to Manoel and his family for their hospitality – and for introducing me to cashew flavoured Caipirinhas, the national tipple.
Did you know cashews nuts are actually the seeds of a red/yellow ‘apple’, which looks a bit like an upside-down pepper? No, neither did I! The fruit is a bit of an acquired taste. If I had been in São Paolo any longer I might have acquired it and got accustomed to one in the (late) morning!