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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Who decided Brazil was cool?
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

There's a bit of a run on all things Brazilian. Its films, fashion, sports, music and people are hot, hot, hot. Why the sudden taste for all things Latin American?

A replica of Rio's Christ the Redeemer in London's Oxford St
Rio comes to rainy London
A little bit of Rio de Janeiro has come to the UK. A 14m-high replica of that city's Jesus the Redeemer spreads his arms over a rain-washed city street to mark Selfridges' month-long Brasil 40 festival in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

And its not just those flocking to the department stores which have let a bit of Latin spirit go to their heads.

The music of South America's biggest country features in TV ads, in clubs, in shops; two acclaimed Brazilian films, Carandiru and Bus 174, are playing in cinemas, which distributors hope will echo the success of City of God; and its designers are taking the fashion and interiors world by storm.

Carnival brights and vibrant prints are hot in home decoration, and humble Brazilian flip-flops - the rubber sandals worn by the country's president, supermodels and street kids alike - are set to be this summer's hottest shoes. Havaianas have already taken the US and Australia by storm, and now the UK importer is selling 50,000 pairs a week.

"Brazil was, is, and will be in fashion," says Gilberto Gil, the musician and 1960s radical who is now its culture minister.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right, with the UN Secretary General
Lula with Kofi Annan at the UN
Not only is the world looking to Brazil for inspiration, Brazil itself is growing in confidence to break free of its stereotype of football, carnivals and samba.

Boosting this confidence is the growing admiration at home and abroad for its cultural movers and shakers, and for its president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was named by Time magazine as one of 2004's most influential people, calling the former shoeshine boy "the developing world's new spokesman".

Place in the sun

Little wonder then, that Brazil has become one of the top long-haul destinations for 25- to 44-year-olds.

Gisele with carnival dancers
Gisele in carnival spirit in Rio
"Just try and get a flight to Brazil in summer - theirs, not ours; it's virtually impossible," says Gity Monself, the creative director of the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, who visits each year with her Brazilian partner.

She puts Brazil's new-found influence down to its people's attitude to life - relaxed, sensual, up for a party - a mix very appealing to sun-starved Britons. Among the adverts which seek to capture this mood are campaigns for Nissan, Sunsilk, Always and Habitat.

But the ubiquity of all things Brazilian has not come out of the blue. We've been watching its footballers (and exuberant fans), drinking caipirinha cocktails, going to samba and capoeira classes, and seeing Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen for several years now. This cumulative exposure which has propelled its influence into the mainstream.

Mood is right

Nicky Owen, of brand consultancy Dragon, says the backing of a major retailer has undoubtedly kick-started moves to make Brazil cool.

"Selfridges always picks a strong cultural reference for their May festival, such as Bollywood or Japan, which people will recognise. They will have noticed Brazil's increasing profile - boosted by football, the drinks companies and the increase in exports from Brazil - and decided to go with that."

City of God
City of God exposed the deprived underbelly of "favela chic"
She says Brazil's influence is a much-needed contrast to both all things Asian, which have been popular for about 15 years, and to the mood of doom and gloom which world events have thrust upon us.

"To find a new source of cultural influence, we have to look somewhere big, and the only other option is Africa. It has an amazing culture, but it's so beset with problems it seems less upbeat."

The UK's weather has - surprisingly - played its part.

"Last year's amazing summer got everyone in the right mood. It showed us that we could relax outdoors with our friends, that outdoor festivals didn't mean cowering in a tent with a damp sandwich."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I am really happy to see that Brazil is getting a reputation as a country that has more to offer than samba, football and coffee. I am proud of my beautiful Brazilian culture and proud of my chosen home country, England, for being so open to foreign culture. I believe that the Brasil 40 fiesta is a true recognition of the efforts of the Brazilian government and industry to gain international respect.
Ana, UK/Brazil

Why Brazil? Antonio Carlos 'Tom' Jobim. The author of, amongst other classics, The Girl From Ipanema, the song given most radio-play of any in the world, created in the 1950s a musical identity for Brazil, an apotheosis of chic, of urbanity, romanticism, bohemia, and wondrous cheesiness which to this day captivates many.
Jonathan, UK

Its multi-racial society contributes hugely to the vibrancy and creativity of the culture - and the huge African influence on Brazilian music, dance etc merits a mention.
Cate, UK

Aren't havaianas just the Emperor's new flip flops?
James, London, UK

There is one Brazilian fashion we've been following for a while now... the Brazilian wax. You can't watch a talk show these days without a female guest mentioning her fondness for it.
Angus, UK

I went to Brazil not so long ago, not knowing it would be THE place to go, picked up my cheap pair of Havaianas out there and I'm now feeling all smug as they appear in the trendy shop windows. That's like SO passť darling...
David Smith, UK

Having visited Brazil over New Year I understand why it's the latest in fashion. Its people are extremely hospitable and relaxed, Rio feels like a vibrant mixture of New York and Athens (with a higher crime rate). Here the First World literally meets the Third - how can the same country host a Formula One Grand Prix every year and win the World Cup more often than anyone else, yet still not provide clean water for the majority of its urban populations? Despite and because of its problems, Brazil is exciting. And exciting is the essence of cool and fashionable.
Rudolf, England

It is with great joy that we Brazilians celebrate our culture taking over this month! Thank you Britain for the warm and friendly reception. I hope this increase in popularity benefits Brazil as a whole, especially the thousands in poverty and desperate need.
Juliana, London, UK

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