Excerpt from Imran Amed & Lauren Sherman for Business of Fashion
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s crisis is serious and widespread, and the economy reflects that. GDP shrunk by 3.8 percent in 2015 to R$5.9 trillion ($1.6 trillion at current exchange), making it the largest dip since 1990, according to Brazilian statistics agency IBGE.
But optimism reigned on Saturday afternoon when, an hour outside of Rio de Janeiro at the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, some 500 guests gazed up at a red-painted ramp for the unveiling of Louis Vuitton artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière’s Cruise 2017 collection.
“We’re investing in Brazil because we know Brazil is a great country,” said Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton’s chief executive, in an interview with BoF prior to the event, which began just before sunset, providing optimal light as the models paraded down the catwalk, snaking through aisles arranged to mimic the curves of Niemeyer’s work. “We’re not surfers, we’re investors. We invest in fundamentals. We buy for the long term,” Burke continued.
Indeed, the country may be in disarray, but it remains an important market for luxury goods. Even in decline, Brazil accounts for more than 50 percent of South America’s wealth from high net worth individuals — $3.97 trillion — according to a 2015 report from Capgemini. As if to underscore the point, perched on seats constructed out of fused plywood and glass or perforated coloured steel were 220 of the brand’s high-spending clients, about 60 percent of them from Brazil.
“We’ve always invested in our local clients,” Burke said. “We don’t sit here and go, ‘Whoa, whoa, next hot country is going to be X, Y, Z. Let’s go there.’ We don’t do that. We think by doing that you’re going to overpay, miss the wave and you’re not going to develop, most importantly, a fusional relationship with the local clients.”
Those clients — who posed in their Louis Vuitton best for photos overlooking the glittering water before and after the show, champagne glasses in hand — were joined by a host of international editors, as well as an eclectic mix of international celebrities, including Jaden Smith, Catherine Deneuve, South Korean actress Doona Bae, retired Japanese football player Hidetoshi Nakata and Zendaya, who, along with Smith, elicited hoots and hollers from a growing crowd of teenagers waiting in anticipation for them outside of the venue.
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