As the fourth-largest city in the world, São Paulo has rightly earned its reputation as a plate-glass jungle. Skyscrapers are the default choice for the city's architects, and the capital's economic expansion is evident in the ever-present array of steel girders and platforms. But at ground level, there's another story unfolding: São Paulo's population of designers and artists are creating their own distinctly Brazilian landscape, one that's being built by hand with bright colors and organic shapes, and that's increasingly being heralded by the international design scene. "Brazilian designers are starting to compete globally," says Zöe Melo, a Brazilian product developer whose Touch showroom in Los Angeles sells straight-from-São Paulo ceramics and interiors line Estudio Manus, created by Caio de Medeiros and Daniela Scorza. The duo's porcelain cup with ear-shaped handles was selected to be part of the prestigious MoMA Store's Destination Brazil showcase last year, which featured works by 45 Brazilian artists in its New York City shop.
De Medeiros and Scorza set up their workshop in the Vila Madalena district, where many other new boutiques are also clustered (Rua Girassol 310, 011-55/11-3032-0679, ear mug $50). No neighborhood tour would be complete without a stop at 62 Graus, an airy space that carries Japanese-Brazilian artist Rachel Hoshino's designs. Drawing on her Japanese background—a common source of inspiration in São Paulo, home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan—Hoshino applies East Asian brush- and manga-style illustrations to porcelain teapots and paper envelopes (sessentaedoisgraus.com.br, teapot $69). Four blocks away, Calu Fontes turns her attention closer to home, hand-painting motifs of spirits, gods, and saints from the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, popular in the Bahia region of Brazil (where her family is from), onto tiles, plates, and vases (calufontes.com, tile $20). And Cynthia Gyuru, the designer behind whimsical housewares and accessories line Olá, pays tribute to the spirit of her country through the liberal use of vibrant florals and tropical birds, and an approachable, handmade aesthetic (olaloja.com.br, decorative clipboard $23). "To mix things—people, materials, cultures—is very Brazilian," says shop owner Tatiana Ammar. She should know: Her hybrid boutique-café, Reciclamundo, deals in painted-glass lanterns, local women's fashion lines, resin jewelry, and banana cake, among other things (Rua Harmonia 303, 011-55/11-3032-9856, banana cake slice $5).
A similar eclecticism is on display in the 121-room Pergamon Hotel in the city center, about two miles away (pergamon.com.br, from $130). Its library is stocked with Brazilian art books, and in the lobby, a tall, tilting, ladderlike wood sculpture by artist Marcelo Silveira stands out against a collection of low, glass-topped tables and sleek banquettes—just one more example of a graceful meeting of the natural and the manufactured.
KEYS TO THE CITY
Taxi from Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) to the city center: about $42 (40 minutes)
Lingo to Learn
Sampa (sahm•pah): A common nickname for the city
Newest Direct Route
From Los Angeles, on Delta (June 30, 2009)
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