HUMBERTO CAMPANA is showing me a chair whose vividly patterned leather cover only partially conceals the base of woven plastic.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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?