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By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – While the whole world was watching Kate Middleton’s ring when she and British Prince William announced their engagement, the hearts of many Brazilian fashionistas must have skipped a beat when they saw Kate’s dress: sapphire, knee-high, silk and designed by Brazilian Daniella Helayel: a dress from the brand “Issa London”.

Kate Middleton in Issa dress and Princess Di's sapphire ring, photo courtesy of Getty.

Designs from the London based Brazilian designer are an A-list fashion item, with clientèle such as Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Naomi Campbell. Issa-dresses have become an international must-have and are now stocked in over thirty countries. Rumor has it that Helayel will also be responsible for Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.

Daniella Helayel’s road from Niteroi to Buckingham Palace started in 1991 when she dropped out of Law School to study Design and Marketing in New York. Later on, in 2004, she moved to London where Helayel started her brand Issa: a surfer’s exclamation of joy. With her jersey dresses and beautiful prints, she won the hearts of stars, supermodels and of a girl called Pippa Middleton, Kate’s sister. The rest is history.

Issa’s success doesn’t stand on its own. Brazil is claiming its place on the global stage and interestingly, fashion is playing a major role in the country’s rise. Amongst the so-called BRIC-countries Brazil is the only one with a major fashion industry of its own. There are countless Brazilian ready-to-wear and accessory brands which have been highly successful with domestic consumers and are now setting their sights outside Brazil.

Look at the international success of the Melissa-shoe. The company’s commitment to the environment with their vegan, recyclable plastic materials, their socially responsible trade and labor practices make vegan shoes more palatable to eco-chic fashionistas. Proof lies in the fact that a limited edition Melissa-shoe in high-profile collaboration with iconic architect Zaha Hadid sold for US$320, exclusively at the Dover Street Market in London last year.

Journalist Márcia Eliza Gama at Hiperfashion thinks that brands like Issa and Melissa add value to Brazilian fashion. “With Issa in the spotlights, people will hear more about Brazilian fashion. Our designers will gain international recognition and the world can get to know the high quality of our fashion industry.”

Zaha Hadid for Melissa photo by SocialIsBetter/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The big energy in Brazil’s fashion market is flowing from both inside and outside the country. For global fashion brands, Brazil is a land of opportunity. In 2010 designers Diane von Furstenberg, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry are opening stores or making investments in Brazil. Mainly in São Paulo, but also at Ipanema’s Rua Garcia D’Avila, similar to New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Brazilians are very passionate about fashion. The whole country is surrounded by amazing colors and Brazilians do not consider fashion as a luxury of just the urban, privileged classes. This doesn’t mean that international luxury brands do not face hurdles in Brazil. The main obstacle is Brazil’s high import duty that keeps most foreign luxury goods out of reach of all but the wealthier consumers.

While challenges exist, this is an exciting moment for fashion in Brazil. The country’s clothing market is growing and is estimated at US$40 billion. With 60 percent of the population under the age of 29, Brazil’s shoppers are young and vibrant – which Brazilian fashion reflects.

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