Fashion: Amazon grace

Young designer Alexandre Herchcovitch's creations do not conform to the samba-and-sequins stereotypes of Brazilian fashion, and they look set to take this month's London Fashion Week by storm. Rebecca Lowthorpe reports
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London Fashion Week - which starts on 21 September - will launch a whole new batch of designers, all eager to be singled out as the next big thing. Amid the litter of talented pups showing on the official schedule for the first time is a 28-year-old designer who already has 10 catwalk shows behind him and whose creations hang in the glossiest uptown stores in New York, Japan and London. If the excited whispers coming from London's avant-garde quarter are to be believed, his show ticket will be the hottest in town. His name is Alexandre Herchcovitch.

Born and raised in Sao Paolo, Herchcovitch's particular taste for clothes has not one iota in common with the usual preconceptions of South American fashion. For a start, you can forget any carnival atmosphere - his shows have a Mass-like solemnity - and as for the clothes, let's just say that dental-floss bikinis and feather head-dresses on showgirl models with mahogany tans and surgically enhanced bodies don't get a look in.

"Everyone thinks Brazilian fashion is just bikinis and beachwear, but the fashion industry here is very serious. We have huge companies which provide many jobs, and the Brazilian people love fashion, they live to dress up," says Herchcovitch from his studio in Sao Paolo, where there is no beach, just an enormous sea of skyscrapers, and a population of 15 million.

Along with his men's and womenswear collections, which he has been producing since 1994, Herchcovitch has two own-name stores which, by the sound of it, resemble art galleries. "There aren't rails of clothes, the space is quite sparse and each piece is treated like a special exhibit," he says. On top of his twice-yearly collections, he also acts as consultant to Puket, Brazil's answer to Wolford, advising the multi-million dollar empire on the cut of its bodies, stockings and tights. He also consults for Zoomp, the Brazilian fashion chain with hundreds of outlets across the country, which financially backs his own business.

The Brazilian fashion industry has now embraced Herchcovitch, but this couldn't be further from the reaction he received after his first show in 1993, when he graduated from the Faculde de Moda Santa Marcelina, Sao Paolo. His collection was influenced by "the insane and the poor", and shown on a catwalk the shape of an inverted cross. Clothes which resembled asylum inmates' uniforms were spattered with red ink to symbolise blood, and the models carried huge crucifixes. "It was considered quite shocking," admits Herchcovitch, not least, he explains, because the university from which he was graduating was run by nuns.

Herchcovitch was bought up in a traditional Jewish family and clearly recalls becoming transfixed by fashion at the tender age of eight. "I used to dress my mother up to go out. She used to wear very tight stretch dresses, high heels and big earrings, and she would change her hair every week, from red to brown, and black to blonde," he says. His mother - "very thin and beautiful" - was his "first university". At that time, she owned a small lingerie business, and taught her son to cut and sew. "She would always wear anything I made for her, even a bright-yellow dress with big, yellow feathers sticking out of it, which she once wore to a big party."

By the age of 16, in the mid-Eighties, Herchcovitch discovered Sao Paolo's underground club culture and made a bee-line for it, using his talent for costume-making to charm the underworld's glitterati. "I made clothes for all these fascinating people. One week I'd measure up Marcia Pantera, this famous drag queen, and Johnny Luxo, who was a big night club host, and then I'd deliver their clothes the next week. They were my first models and the clubs were my first catwalks."

Herchcovitch has chosen to launch himself on to the world stage via London, where his penchant for exotica should go down a treat. The reason for showing here instead of Paris or New York is, he says, because London is a fantastic platform for the younger generation. Not only that, Herchcovitch already has a business to expand in the UK, with six London stockists, including Soho's directional stores The Dispensary (womenswear) and Kokon Tozai (menswear). The audience will, almost certainly, be presented with Herchovitch's trademark latex pieces (made from a variant of the rubber-like fabric extracted from only one type of tree in the Amazon - a process that was developed by his own fair hands). Then there's the fragile black tulle embroidered with vibrant, fire-coloured flowers, and the silhouettes which appear to have been partially inspired by either Dior's New Look or Thierry Mugler's Eighties cartoon-like vixens. He has also paid attention to Comme des Garcons, Alexander McQueen and Ann Demeulemeester, the result of which is rather bizarre, attention grabbing, and certainly unique.

Herchcovitch is not interested in setting up shop in London. "Why would I want to move there?" he asks. "The whole world is in Sao Paolo - Japanese, Italian, African, Jewish, Catholic - it's all so inspiring. I have no plans to leave."

Captions: Leaf-embroidered dress, pounds 800

All clothes from Alexandre Herchcovitch's autumn/winter collection (except where mentioned), available from The Dispensary, 9 Newburgh Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-287 8145

Hair Paul Yacomine using Paul Yacomine Micro Haircare Systems

Make-up Kay Montano for Chantecaille

Model Colette C at Select

Photographer's assistants Koli Rivelino and Pereguine

Stylist's assistant Isabelle-Marie Creac'h

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