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São Paulo’s High-Voltage Social Scene

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Photo: Andrea Fazzari

For evidence beyond Oscar Freire, you can head across town to the famous emporium Daslu, 25,000 square feet of boutiques selling everything from cars to Chanel, housed in a contemporary high-rise whose rooftop helipad has helped many a daughter of Latin America’s robber barons haul home the Gucci. Recently, Daslu set aside a big new section dedicated to Brazilian talent: blouson and trapeze styles by Juliana Jabour in drapey cotton blends; Reinaldo Lourenço’s more avant-garde tailored and knit pieces; the rainbow silks of Cris Barros and Neon; and the sporty Bermuda shorts and puff-sleeved polos of Pelú, whose main boutique, a multibrand shop and hair salon, is in the bohemian Baixo Jardins neighborhood on Oscar Freire’s border. "Some years ago we were thinking about what Europeans were doing and trying to follow them, but the younger designers here have their own ideas," says Donata Meirelles, Daslu’s head buyer.

São Paulo’s Santa Marcelina fashion school has encouraged local designers’ independence: since the first class graduated in 1991, the impulse to knock off the Europeans has weakened with every passing season. Now, but for a few exceptions, the clothes at Clube Chocolate, a three-story shop on Oscar Freire featuring minimalist wood interiors and a small aviary of tropical birds, are all Brazilian. The house label, formerly designed by Rio-based Isabela Capeto (think Marc Jacobsesque naïf-cool with handcrafty knotting and top-stitching) is now in the hands of Adriana Barra, a young paulistana with a rapidly expanding business and a following of her own. Her namesake boutique, like Capeto’s, is in a town house nearby, but while Capeto’s digs are sleek, Barra’s are a psychedelic riot that almost competes with her bright kimono tops and contrasting-print, tiered long dresses. Were her designs less feminine and easy, one might not want to remove one’s sunglasses.

Oscar Freire’s consumerist appeal isn’t just about clothes. São Paulo is a serious food city. One requirement while in the neighborhood is to refill your tank by lunching in the shade of a gigantic, centuries-old fig tree at A Figueira Rubaiyat, a swanky landmark supplied by a cattle ranch just outside the city. Outsize cuts of beef are served up with vinegary herbed red onions, while the occasional fig leaf floats onto your table from the tangle of branches above. The wood-burning oven turns out not only steaks but everything from fish casseroles to caramelized fruit, and the enormous wine list will convert even the most insufferable old-world snob to the vines of Chile and Argentina. Surprisingly for such a high-rent district, you can also eat on the cheap, grabbing a perfect cafezinho (coffee) and a fried coxinha (a dumpling of chicken crusted with mashed potato) at the precious patisserie Cristallo, right across the street from Clube Chocolate. Every Thursday morning, the sidewalks of Rua Barão de Capanema, between Rua Padre João Manuel and Alameda Ministro Rocha Azevedo, turn into a greenmarket that really brings the country to town. Tanned and weather-beaten trabalhadores from the fazendas (plantations) hawk arugula, enormous mangoes, lychees, chiles, and pitanga-leaf tea, shouting out with broad grins to housewives and uniformed maids: "Bom día, meninas," and "Oi! Barata aquí!"—anything to beat the competition one stall over. Chef Alex Atala, whose D.O.M. Restaurante is considered among the best in the world, and who leads a new wave of Brazilian cozinha contemporanea, fills his larders here regularly. The dedicated Slow Foodist supplements his market finds with produce from his own farm, in the state of Amapa in the northern Amazon.

When D.O.M. opened in 1999, Brazilian dishes like Bahian moqueca (fish stew with coconut milk, peanuts, and chiles), or all-you-can-eat rodizios, were an even more humble affair. The seasoning of Brazilian food is, if not hot like that of some other Latin countries, intensely flavorful, and the quality of the raw materials is high (a simple chicken thigh pit-barbecued churrasco-style has more taste and texture than any robo-chicken I’ve had in Gringolandia). But at D.O.M., Atala has lightened and brightened Brazilian grain staples like tapioca and farofa, and given the Michelin-star treatment to local fish and tropical fruits. (One of D.O.M.’s best-known desserts is banana ravioli with passion-fruit sauce and tangerine sorbet.) The result is refined, as much a treat for the mind as for the taste buds.

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