British fashion designer Stella McCartney acknowledges the crowd at her 2015 Spring/Summer fashion show in Paris on September 29, 2014© AFP/File Patrick KovarikBritish fashion designer Stella McCartney acknowledges the crowd at her 2015 Spring/Summer fashion show in Paris on September 29, 2014

Sao Paulo (AFP) – Fashion stars Stella McCartney and Donatella Versace this week will launch collections with two department stores in Brazil — a country with consumers hungry for top brands despite an economic downturn.

The daughter of the Beatles legend is launching her second collection, this time just for Brazil, for international chain C&A.

Versace, meanwhile, has designed an exclusive collection for Brazilian store Riachuelo, which has more than 220 stores — and more than 20 million clients. Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima is fronting the ad campaign.

The launches — the latest in a series of similar high-low collaborations in the fashion world — come during Sao Paulo Fashion Week, the largest such event in Latin America, which runs through Friday.

“These collaborations with C&A and Riachuelo show the maturity and the marketing power of Brazilian fashion — its importance, scope and strength,” Paulo Borges, the founder and artistic director of Sao Paulo Fashion Week, told AFP.

“‘Fast fashion’ is a process which allows a greater number of consumers to satisfy their fashion desires,” he said, referring to the trend to get designs quickly from catwalk to store shelves.

“Brazil is 10 years behind in terms of consumption, as compared with international markets. It will continue to buy a lot more,” Borges predicted.

Huge Market

Over the past decade, Brazil has undergone a deep social transformation with welfare programs lifting some 40 million people out of extreme poverty and into the burgeoning consumer ranks.

As a result, it has become an attractive destination for top international fashion and beauty brands. Shopping centers are springing up at a rapid rate.

Luxury labels such as Chanel, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Tiffany and Valentino can all be found in this country of 202 million people — in both big wealthier cities such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and in smaller cities in the northeast like Fortaleza and Recife.

Spain’s Zara, the reference in the fast-fashion world, has already set up shop in Brazil with great success. 

Others, like Sweden’s H&M — one of the pioneers of special collections with top-name designers — are scheduled to make the move in 2015.

“Brazil is a huge market, but one that is essentially geared towards the mass market. We are betting on the future by setting up here,” a spokesman for one Italian luxury brand told AFP on condition of anonymity.

London-based consultancy Euromonitor calculates that sales of clothing and shoes ballooned by 62 percent in Brazil between 2008 and 2013, and predicts a further rise of 20 percent for 2013-2018.

“Even if the economy is stagnant, Brazil has economic pulling-power plus very favorable growth in the fashion business,” Luciane Robic, an expert at the Brazilian Institute of Fashion, told AFP.

‘Brazil cost’ 

Brazil is home to some 300,000 fashion businesses. But even if the market is booming, many are struggling.

The reason for that is what is termed “the Brazil cost”: high taxes and lots of red tape, along with expensive raw materials and labor, make local production costly.

In addition, quality lags behind international standards, leaving Brazilian labels at a disadvantage compared with foreign luxury brands.

“In Europe, a luxury brand is much more accessible than it is in Brazil,” says Robic.

Brazil also suffers from competition from large-scale producers in China, where associated costs are generally lower.

“Without cutting costs, Brazilian production will not prove successful,” warns Borges.

The entire Versace for Riachuelo collection has been produced in Brazil, compared to only part of the McCartney line for C&A.

Both designers are in Sao Paulo for the launch events this week.

The McCartney line includes suits in pastel shades with hints of navy blue, gold and black.

The Versace for Riachuelo collection is the Brazilian store’s first international fashion collaboration. It includes “animal print” designs in mauve, yellow, black and off-white. Prices range from $20 to $200.