São Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW), currently taking place at the Niemeyer-designed Cicillo Matarazzo Pavilion at Parque do Ibirapuera, is the largest fashion event, not just in Brazil but in Latin America. It generates significant profit. Now in its 15th year as part of the city’s official calendar, SPFW brings makes around €1.3bn in turnover.
Its value isn’t just pecuniary though, SPFW has become the perfect “soft power” exponent – a creative economy driver for the capital that improves the self-esteem of its population while at the same time polishing visiting foreigners’ impressions of the metropolis.
City Hall takes advantage of this golden opportunity. Of the €6.2m that SPFW costs, €1.1m is provided by the government, which understands the added benefit to the city as a whole if the event attracts more people. Influential global industry leaders in the city brings more money and new business opportunities and not only in the fashion and textile industries but tourism too. “The global image of São Paulo stands to gain a lot with fashion week,” says Caio Carvalho, president of SPTuris.
Despite growing urban violence, increasing traffic gridlock, lousy electricity distribution and public transport the city sells itself as a First World global capital. Hotels are packed, restaurants have queues of up to three hours and museums, which save their flagship exhibitions for this time, are packed.
Paulo Borges, creative director of São Paulo Fashion Week, makes the point that “chaotic” cities hosting such events stand to gain more: “Events like that only happen in places with a large inflow of people – business and artistic crowds. And they are chaotic cities as New York, Berlin and Hong Kong. But it is in these cities, in the middle of the chaos, that catharsis comes,” he says.
This year, in addition to fashion week, the Oca Pavilion, also in Ibirapuera, is for the first time hosting an event entirely devoted to high-end design, with pieces by local stars including the Campana Brothers and Marcio Kogan. It’s an attempt to add São Paulo to the international circuit of art fairs such as Miami/Basel or Frieze.
“We’ve planned this for four years,” says Waldick Jatobá, one of Brazil’s biggest art collectors and the event’s organizer. But it’s only now that he felt the Brazilian audience is ready. “Now is the right time, with a mature audience willing to understand our proposal.” In terms of quality of life São Paulo is a long way from Helsinki; the sprawling megatropolis has a lot of work to do before it becomes “liveable” for the majority of its population. Yet there is a real drive to better itself here too, presenting its best side to a global audience. And the combined hosting of SPFW and design week is a significant step in marketing its soft power. While São Paulo will likely never feature in the top 10 of any quality of life survey, it carries a cultural clout, past and present, that is worthy of global attention.