Suzy in the Campana studio with Humberto Campana, left, and his brother Fernando, with the "Cangaço" collection of chairs and tables (2015)
HUMBERTO CAMPANA is showing me a chair whose vividly patterned leather cover only partially conceals the base of woven plastic.
“Brazilian Baroque,” says the celebrated interior designer to describe Campana’s style, while his brother and work partner Fernando is signalling me towards lacy plastic pumps in vivid colours that the duo created for Brazil’s Melissa shoes.
A handbag from the Campana "Zig Zag" collection for Melissa shoes (2004-2006)
The Campana Brothers’ studio was my last stop in São Paulo — literally, as I was on the way to the airport. Yet it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip and put my thoughts about Brazilian fashion in perspective.
Although I could not make any true judgement about Brazilian style for the Resort season as my hectic schedule allowed me to watch the shows only sporadically, I was drawn to designers who make clothes that include recycling or using local hand-workers. Those clothes stood out in an era when everything, across continents, looks much the same in fashion.
The "Barocca" slip-on from the Campana collection for Melissa shoes (2004-2006)
High-heeled anklestrap sandals from the Campana "Zig Zag" collection for Melissa shoes (2004-2006)
The Campana Brothers, who founded their studio in 1983, are legendary for re-using and re-inventing existing materials to create original interior design. I knew, even before Fernando told me, that the fluffy toy animals piled up in the basement workshop were not a pre-Christmas purchase but the basis of an intriguing piece of furniture. And that the chair that was a jigsaw puzzle of different woven straw pieces was probably put together by resourceful shanty-town dwellers - like the famous Campana “Favela” chair that is now in the permanent collections of international museums.
A Campana "Alligator" chair made from leather and toy stuffed animals
“We get all the leftovers and we don’t throw anything away,” said Humberto, as his brother showed me a chair patterned with grey-green stuffed toy alligators and then the 2009 Campana Brothers x Lacoste project, for which 2,000 hand-made, Lacoste logo mini-crocodiles were stitched together to make a lacy sports top. That was part of the French polo-shirt maker’s initiative to link its logo with protecting crocodiles in the Amazon, while also giving work to residents of Rio’s notorious Rocinha favela.
A Campana wicker patchwork chair
“Brazil is a bi-polar country — elegance or trash,” said Fernando, praising Patricia Kundrát, the wife of Brazil’s former Prime Minister Fernando Cardozo, for supporting local handcraft. Some of that is on display as a pop-up shop in São Paulo’s classy JK Iguatemi mall.
But the Campana Brothers are true artists, as well as artisans. Their mix of make-do-and-mend and a joyous, carnival spirit means that their rare connections to fashion seem as meaningful as their interior designs.
The Campana "Favela" chair is now in museum collections around the world
Humberto showed me wicker, apparently tinted gold but which was, according to his brother, actually natural straw from the least populated region in the entire country. I was also told about their upcoming New York exhibition and its focus on silver, for which casting is just beginning. And I was shown two instruments from indigenous communities that Fernando started to play.
The "Lacoste Lace" polo-shirt from the "Holiday Collector's Series" by Campana x Lacoste (2009)
Woman's polo shirt from the "Holiday Collector's Series" by Campana x Lacoste (2012)
With string and cord moulded into objects; straw used inside and out; and castaway toys turned into unique designs, do the duo ever buy new things for themselves?
“There is a crystal shop up the road, and I buy them when I’m stressed,” said Fernando, pointing to semi-transparent pieces of rock balanced on the window frame of his office. I imagine that they will soon be re-purposed by this duo with a zest for making a great deal out of nothing.
It may look gilded, but this Campana basket is made from pure straw
A jungle-themed "tree" made from found objects
The Campana "Cangaço" collection of leather-covered wicker chairs (2015)
A Campana chair made from plastic seating and plastic wicker
Resembling gilded snakes, a basket from the Campana "Ofidia" collection (2015)
Humberto Campana in his studio with a table of toys made from re-purposed materials
A "Barocca" gladiator sandal from the Campana collection for Melissa shoes (2004-2006)