Iguatemi in São Paulo celebrates its 50th birthday by showing there’s more to a successful mall than buying and selling
The rich pink orchids leading to a quaint clock powered by water take up prime space in Iguatemi in São Paulo. Next week, the world-renowned florist-cum-artist Jeff Leatham will take over the same area in this mall, which was the first to open in Brazil — and in Latin America — 50 years ago.
That sounds like a clarion call to offer clients 50 per cent off certain goods. But for Carlos Jereissati Filho, President and CEO of the Iguatemi Group, the temptation is rather to plant another tree to add to the luxuriant greenery that surrounds the mall and even digs its roots into the client restaurant.
It was here that I sat down with Carlos, asking him about how Iguatemi was celebrating its half-century — before we swapped roles and he asked me about my role as International Vogue Editor.
“To be 50 in Brazil is an achievement! It is quite a challenge in a country that is 500 years old! Things here change so much and everybody is always looking for the new and the next thing to come along,” Carlos said. “I believe in the Charles Darwin philosophy that it is not the strongest or smartest that survive, but whoever is more adaptable. I have always tried to follow that philosophy, so that Iguatemi adapts to the new and is attractive to the customer in terms of design, of service, of content, and providing experiences. That has been key — we search for the best retailers, not the most obvious ones, but the ones who are interesting, new, and fresh to the market. It is about creating a unique experience.”
Since Iguatemi has Louis Vuitton at the top of the steps at the main entrance and all the familiar high-end international brands are interspersed with local boutiques across the different floors, I asked Carlos what were the three key things over the last five years that marked a major change in retail.
“Let me go bit back in time a little more,” the executive said. “First we visited places all around the world to get ideas — the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan [one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, which opened in 1877] has all these restaurants outside — but how can you create a restaurant in the middle of a garden inside a mall? How can you create that flavour and bring that experience to Brazil? Look at where we are right now: We are on a veranda at the back of a bookstore. How could people believe that this could exist?”
“We had a regular technology shop and we came to the owner and said, why not create something that is not just a technology shop but an experience shop for technology? People would love to come and see what the next happening things are. With all these connections we wanted to bring more knowledge into our malls. So we created this huge bookshop full of special rooms where people have continuous lectures about many different things as well as writers talking about their latest books.”
“What is going on in my mind is that it is important for people to connect physically with the space — and how can we create that?” Carlos continued. “No one invests more in landscaping and the environment than us.”
“Let’s bring in fitness centres, let’s bring in live theatres, let’s bring all the excitement to where you spend time. When you are here you can shop, but the shopping is the consequence of where you want to be rather than the place you come to shop. It is totally the other way around.”
Since the essence of most shopping malls all over the world is a feeling of being contained in a space, I asked Carlos if, with his trees and orchids, he had set out to create a feeling of open air and whether it had grown from a general desire for a greener world.
“The flower arrangements all around the mall — we’ve had that more than 20 years,” said Carlos, who has extended the floral decoration even to the bathrooms. The idea that an in-store loyalty programme can include a lounge for people to rest and a private bathroom — rather than a discount on a new pair of shoes — does seem to take this retail group to a different level of attention to its customers. Other ideas for embracing Iguatemi clients into one big family include offering important guests the chance to celebrate a private anniversary and, for a day out with the kids, providing Iguatemi bicycles to ride on specially built cycle lanes that connect the three separate Iguatemi malls in traffic-jammed São Paulo.
By the time that Carlos had told me that the quest for a healthy life included not just a beauty mall, but a focus on health, with “Blue November” for prostate cancer and “Orange December” for dermatology, I asked him how this concept of better shopping for all mankind had come about.
“We developed a skill; we really want people to feel happy, because then they will want to come back, and we will always have a business,” he said. “We developed this skill many, many years ago and it became part of our DNA. That’s why we put more money in the content and design than people normally do. When the technology came, we were ready.”
Following his retail attitude of going against the grain and turning things upside down, Carlos suggested that he and I change places: that he come up with the questions and I deliver the answers. Here is the result:
Carlos Jereissati Filho interviews Suzy Menkes…
… On Fashion and the Creative Process:
Carlos Jereissati Filho: We’ve been witnessing a lot of changes in fashion, and there has been a high turnover of talent. Raf Simons left Dior and went to Calvin Klein; Maria Grazia Chiuri left Valentino and went to Dior; Anthony Vaccarello left Versus Versace and went to YSL, to name a few. Why do you think this is happening, and what do you think it means to big fashion houses and their parent groups?
Suzy Menkes: Since we first discussed this issue, Consuelo Castiglioni has left Marni — the brand she founded in 1994 — and gossip continues to rage around Jonathan Anderson and whether he will be moved from Loewe. Most people in the fashion industry are saying how difficult these short terms are for designers and they are weeping for Alber Elbaz to come back.
But I would like to say something about retailers — and this is not because you are asking me the question, Carlos. I feel sorry for retailers and customers. Just as you get used to the style of a designer, she or he goes somewhere else. I am not talking about loyalty, but about how tough it must be to keep asking clients to follow the way the wind blows.
In my opinion, there is one single and simple reason behind these changes: Money. Designers demand a fortune from the brands and working super-hard is the price they pay. If sales are weak, there is more pressure on them. And I believe that a brand can no longer rely on selling accessories, especially handbags, to be the “cash cows” in order to justify clothes that aren’t bought, except on markdown.
CJF: What do you think is fashion’s biggest challenge today and do you have any advice for the industry?
SM: Now that we are all celebrities on Instagram, we all wear only the most glamorous clothes to look like Rihanna or Beyoncé. Oh no we don’t! Well, maybe here in Brazil you go to work dressed as if for the beach in Rio. But most women want clothes that work as hard as they do. That’s why Céline is considered a saviour for women with a job and a family — and it’s not just women, by the way. The recent rush to put on designer men’s shows has also, in my opinion, given a wrong impression about the male wardrobe — hence the wild new designer at classic Brioni, Justin O’Shea, leaving the company after one single show.
CJF: How do you see the role of women in fashion? It seems that many of the designers are still men. What do you think of that?
SM: There have always been female designers. You can’t argue with names like Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and so very many more over the years, from Sonia Rykiel to Diane von Furstenberg to Miuccia Prada. But I would say that the difference is that male designers tend to be fantasists — like John Galliano, for example — whereas women design for themselves and for women of their times. I like a bit of fantasy! But the real question is not what gender the designer is, but how these artists of clothing make them relevant to the times.
… On Journalism:
CJF: You are a sharp journalist, and respected worldwide. In your opinion, what makes for good fashion journalism? What contributed to your own success?
SM: Fashion journalism is like any other reporting: you need to be efficient and accurate. This is especially the case now that you can view a collection online in a matter of minutes across the world, so the reporter-critic has an even more important role.
I was taught the principles of journalism as a junior reporter at The Times in London. Each story should have a Who? What? Where? When? Why? Even though digital readers think they can judge a collection instantly, without a view from different angles, without a study of the setting, without a look at which details jump out on the runway, they can’t have a full perspective. It is those issues — and many others — that make up a proper report.
I also like to put designers in the context of what they have done before. For example, since Demna Gvasalia is now designing both for his own Vetements label and for Balenciaga, I have to consider whether the two collections he creates have similarities, and what is the relationship to Cristóbal Balenciaga’s legacy. Good journalism is not about bad criticism; it is really more about context.
CJF: You’ve written many books, one hardly known about modelling in the time of Twiggy (How to be a Model, 1969), and the award-winning The Windsor Style (1987). If you were to write a book today, what would the topic be and why?
SM: I keep being asked to write books, but I would like to wait until publishers take some interest in the words, instead of printing them in pale grey on white paper, because that looks nice beside the colourful pictures! I hear that How to be a Model sells well on eBay. Wish I had some spares!
CJF: You were born in the UK and wrote many books about the British royal family. During your research, was there anything in particular that really impressed you, or taught you something special?
SM: I’m interested in history in general. I studied History and English at Cambridge University. I am also fascinated by jewellery, and when I put the two together — especially in my book, The Royal Jewels (1990) — I make some fascinating discoveries. Jewels owned by the crown, in any country, are both public and private. They usually include both gifts from husband to wife, like Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, and jewels that are part of a royal heritage. If I had some spare time in this busy visit to Brazil, I would love to research possible links between Portuguese royal jewellery and what designers produced in this country.
… On Communication and the Role of Technology:
CJF: How has the fashion industry changed since the rise of technology?
SM: Oh my goodness! Where shall we start? There is the good side: The possibility of talented but unknown people in distant countries bringing their inventions to the world; the way the beauty business has changed via YouTube and its personal, helpful advice is extraordinary. That has had a big impact on established brands. Then there is the scary side: Knowing that the arrival of 3D printing will make copying a style so easy that small designers will fight to stay in business.
And what about Instagram, which has made the way we all look and present ourselves an obsession? I also believe that the desire to stand out in a crowd, in a mini-celebrity way, has changed behaviour and appearance. Fashion pros always used to wear black. But now anything goes.
It is also true that anyone can start a blog and offer themselves as a fashion critic. I’m all for that, because the good ones will rise to the top and people with nothing to say will just fade away.
However, the sheer speed of reporting and the lack of in-depth reporting does not always seem to me to be good for fashion. It’s all about speed while more time and deeper thought might ultimately produce something more worthwhile.
CJF: You have had a brilliant career and, before Vogue, you were a fashion editor at the International Herald Tribune. Today you are International Editor for 19 international editions of Vogue online. How is it to work in the online world versus the printed newspaper world?
SM: I just don’t see the difference in my actual writing. Words are words. And you can find them scratched on the wall of an ancient cave, written with a quill pen, beaten out on a typewriter or tapped on a computer. There is no basic change. The only real difference is the length, which in print is finite. I learned to write to a strict word count and still today I know instinctively how many words are in my review — although no-one actually cares any more!
The big difference is also speed. I consider myself a fast writer and I have so many memories of dashing out of a show and getting the entire review done in 17 minutes for the Herald Tribune deadline. But then, people did not actually see it in print until the next morning’s newspaper.
The great thing about being present in Vogue across the world is that each country can present the story in a slightly different way. Seeing how Australia —very quick — or Italy (visually amazing) or Brazil — brilliant! — uses what I do is exhilarating for me.
… On the Future of Fashion:
CJF: Which upcoming designers are you currently following?
SM: I don’t pre-judge designers. I am interested in everybody. Those editors who cut out Rick Owens for the Spring/Summer 2017 season because they say he always does the same thing, missed an exuberant and extraordinary use of colour from a designer who always seemed wedded to black. Stella McCartney reminded me recently that I came to one of her very first shows where she used antique underwear that she bought at London flea markets. And look where she is now!
CJF: I think one of your first interactions with fashion was a Nina Ricci couture show. A lot has changed since then, so what do you think is the future of couture?
SM: I was studying at the Paris school of the Chambre Syndicale and the grand Russian woman in the house where I was staying took me to see a Nina Ricci show. I did a little drawing of one of the hats and I was marched out of the show like a criminal. I have never blushed so red! Can you imagine, in those days you weren’t allowed to publish anything for three months after the show. And today, it is See Now, Buy Now.
The survival of couture depends on the clients. Chanel is still doing brilliantly. So is Elie Saab, the Lebanese designer working in Paris. Both have a large number of clients. It is interesting that Schiaparelli, which is owned by Diego Della Valle, is rebuilding a couture house and finding that women still want these extra-special personal details – like men and their bespoke suits.
… On Suzy’s World:
CJF: What is your favourite country?
SM: My favourite country is where I happen to be in the moment, so today it is Brazil!
CJF: What is your favourite food?
SM: I like anything fresh, rather than fancy. Just a tomato ripened in the sun can be delicious.
CJF: Where do you go to inspire yourself?
SM: I love museums. They are always there waiting for you, and whenever I travel and have a break, I always search out a museum to give me a flavour of the local culture.
CJF: Can you please speak about your conferences? What makes a good conference? Any memorable interviews? For those who don’t know, could you tell us about the annual Condé Nast International Luxury Conference?
SM: I started doing conferences about luxury at the millennium, and when I joined Condé Nast International, the Chairman and CEO Jonathan Newhouse was eager for me to continue with that work. A conference should always reflect the times, so in April this year, for example, the subject was “Future Luxury” and we held the conference in Seoul, which is super-wired. I found better connections on the streets of South Korea than in my office back in Europe!
In spite of the many speakers on digital subjects, including Eva Chen, Head of Fashion on Instagram, the most revealing moment was when a cosmetic surgeon, famous in South Korea, told the audience what you in Brazil already know. “At $2,000 for a new chin, we are in competition with a new handbag,” he said. And you could hear a few retailers in the room gasping!
The CNI Luxury Conference we held in Florence in 2015 was opened by Jony Ive of Apple, whose products are probably the biggest competitor in financial terms to buying a new pair of designer shoes. We also had Karl Lagerfeld as a speaker. He surprised everyone by announcing, “There is no magic — it is about work, work, work.”
In April 2017, the CNI Luxury Conference will be in Muscat, Oman, with the subject of “Mindful Luxury” — meaning something you think about before you rush and buy. I am always looking to see what the next generation is doing, and I am so pleased to have Guram Gvasalia, co-founder of Vetements and an exceptional business brain, talk about the retailing of tomorrow.
Condé Nast International is launching the print edition of Vogue Arabia at the same time, although I knew nothing about the magazine when we decided on Oman as a location. I think the conferences have become an important gathering for the luxury industry. We will have an audience of 500 movers and shakers from more than 30 countries and it is considered a top place to make contacts. If you are interested, you can find more on our conference website, www.cniluxury.com.
CJF: Did you always have a keen interest in fashion? When did you realise that the world of fashion was for you?
SM: My mother said it was when I was five and I did a drawing of her coat. But I think it was two years later, when I threw a rage at having to wear a dress that had been worn by my older sister. It was green, a horrible green, when I liked blue. If you do an image search online, I don’t think you will ever find me wearing anything green today!
CJF: Who are your personal fashion icons?
SM: Yves Saint Laurent, of course. He was the towering force of 20th-century fashion. I also admire Issey Miyake for producing such inventive clothes and fabrics.
CJF: You are a mother and grandmother. What, in your opinion, has been the most important lesson you ever taught your children and grandchildren?
SM: Sadly, I have never taught my six grandchildren, male or female, to sew. But I hope all have learned that a mother can love her work and love her children, and that my family knows that I love fashion — but it’s family first.
CJF: You have a very iconic image, and your hairstyle is famous. When did you start wearing that style, and what was your inspiration?
SM: This is a very boring answer, but it happened because my hairdresser — a very smart woman — answered my plea about how I could have my hair off my face when I was working, without looking dull. She came up with this hairstyle, a pompadour, which requires a good cut and one decorative hair comb from the glamorous stock of Alexandre de Paris. I can do I it myself in ten seconds!
CJF: You have said that you love jewellery. What attracts you to jewels, and do you collect them? What are your favourite pieces?
SM: I want to collect sapphires and amethysts, and even a few diamonds. But that is the dream side. The last thing I bought was a Gucci necklace that looks as though it’s from a Victorian dressing room and people stop me in the street to ask about it.
… On Travel:
CJF: You travel all over the world, not only for the fashion shows, but also with your conferences. What country has surprised you the most and why?
SM: Countries are like fashion shows; they change, and sometimes they are less or more loveable. I think that going to Oman for the first time was a very surprising experience. And to discover that it is only 2½-hour flight from India!
CJF: Can you share your thoughts on Brazilian style? Who are your favourite Brazilian fashion designers and what advice would you give a young Brazilian designer about the formula for success in fashion? SM: I would like to give you these answers when I’ve had more time to see the work of Brazil’s designers — that’s coming soon!
These interviews were part of “Fio da Meada” in Brazil: two weeks of workshops and panel discussions with luminaries from the Brazilian and international creative industries, which were hosted by Iguatemi to celebrate its 50th anniversary.