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Sao Paulo kicks off week-long fashion fiesta

20 january 2012, 15:25
REUTERS/Nacho Doce
© REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Latin America's premier fashion event launched a week-long celebration of Brazilian creativity, style and glamor Thursday, dogged by perennial questions over a lack of racial diversity, AFP reports.

Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) opened the 32nd edition of its winter collection at a cavernous hall in Ibirapuera Park, broadcast live on the Internet for the first time, to showcase Brazilian designers.

Until next Tuesday, it will highlight some 30 labels, including Animale, Tufi Duek, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Gloria Coelho or Fernanda Yamamoto, Reinaldo Lorenco, in South America's largest metropolis of 20 million people.

"Brazil is going through a very privileged moment," said SPFW's creative director Paulo Berges, referring to the country's boom that has propelled into place as the world's sixth biggest economy.

But as occurred at the Rio fashion show last week, the celebration was marred by charges of racism in the Brazilian fashion world because the overwhelming majority of models are white in a country where more than half of the population is of African descent.

In an open letter to the press and Brazilian society, David Santos, a Franciscan friar who heads Educafro, a lobby group fighting for the labor rights of blacks and indigenous people, publicized his legal feud with SPFW over the issue.

And Educafro staged a protest show at its headquarters at which activists demanded that blacks' demographic weight be reflected in all aspects of economic life, including fashion.

Brazil, home to 190 million people, has the world's second largest black population after Nigeria.

Visibly irritated, Borges rejected charges of discrimination and accused Educafro of trying to use fashion week to publicize its cause.

"This is not a territory for inappropriate discussion (of race)," he told AFP. "This is a creative territory."

In 2009, SPFW was forced to set quotas requiring at least 10 percent of the models to be of African ancestry or indigenous people.

Previously, only a handful of black models featured among the 350 or so that sashayed down the catwalk -- usually less than three percent.

Two years ago, the 10 percent quota for "Afro-descendants and indigenous people" was removed as it was deemed unconstitutional.

Borges said SPFW urges labels attending fashion week to recruit 10 percent of "afro-descendants and indigenous people" but cannot force them to do so.

SPFW said it had no information on the percentage of black models appearing at the show.

Borges insisted his fashion group Luminosidade values and promotes diversity and Brazil's mixed racial heritage.

Santos however vowed to keep the pressure on, pointing out that following a complaint by Educafro, federal prosecutors this week questioned the city of Sao Paulo and the ministry of tourism about their transfer of public funds to SPFW, which stands accused of discrimination.

He said federal law stipulates that public funds cannot be used for events or companies that discriminate against blacks.

Santos told AFP that prosecutors also asked the show's organizers to turn over by next month a list of all its members by next month.

Educafro said it planned to launch legal action against all fashion houses that do not promote diversity.

SPFW is held twice a year, in January for the winter collection and in June for the summer collection.

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