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Uniquely Urban: A Weekend in São Paulo

Having lived, worked, and vacationed in Brazil for many years, it’s kind of shocking that I hadn’t really explored its largest city. São Paulo was always just a layover on the way to the gorgeous beaches of the northeast or the sexy city of Rio. But with an itinerary carefully crafted by my colleagues at the São Paulo Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was in for a surprise. Hotel Unique_Lobby

Walking into my hotel, I was immediately struck by the unique design of the lobby and quickly understood how it earned its name. Hotel Unique is the architectural gem by Ruy Ohtake, one of Brazil’s architect legends. Drawing inspiration from Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and of course, his mother, famed Brazilian artist, Tomie Ohtake, Ruy’s lunar shaped luxury hotel is a sight to behold. Unique_Skye_Pool

Sitting down to check-in, I noticed the Conde Nast 2016 awards for “Best South American Hotel” and Hotel Unique’s enviable position at #8 on the list of “Top 50 Hotels in the World”. Sipping on a glass of welcome champagne, I was curious to learn how this hotel had earned its accolades.

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Eager to rest, I drew a bath in my suite, all the while intrigued by the edgy design. The contrast of curves and corners set against a backdrop of soothing white decor had me entranced.

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But why the awards? There are many hotels that boast cutting-edge design and invest in their interiors, but what makes Hotel Unique stand out is their service. Every one of my requests, odd as they were, was met with a warm smile that made me feel like I was at an old friend’s home. Read any of the TripAdvisor reviews, and it’s no wonder Hotel Unique is ranked as their top São Paulo recommendation. And it’s also worth mentioning that I was greeted with a glass of champagne wherever I went – it was as if they had a secret champagne nymph following me around the hotel!

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In a city as large as São Paulo, it’s sometimes hard to uncover hidden gems. But with the help of my expert guide, Flazia Liz Di Paolo, every corner beckons with glittering finds. Two of her unique fashion recs: Japonique Boutique and Léia Sgro Jewelry.

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My favorite COMAS dress made from men’s shirts!

Japonique is trendy, but tastefully curated. I picked up a pair of Melissa shoes for a client, browsed through chic room decor, but my favorite discovery was the COMAS clothing line. Lucky enough to meet with the director of COMAS, she shared some of their eco-friendly design philosophy with me. “It’s upcycling. We take men’s shirts and rework them into wearable designs for women.” Emphasis on wearable. Luckily I bought my sustainable, yet stylish items early in my trip and wore them all over Brazil(see below!), since they hardly wrinkle, and looked great with wedges, tennis shoes, and the ubiquitous Havaianas.

Flavia Liz’s other hidden gem? The handmade jewelry of Léia Sgro. Walking into Léia’s studio, there’s a definite shift in your energy. Calming and centering, her delicate pieces float on branches hung throughout her gallery, coaxing you to take a second look. My favorites – a pendant and earring set made from the skeleton leaves in her garden.

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Léia’s talents don’t end with jewelry making. She is also one of only three people outside of Japan trained and skilled at the art of Chabako. Léia explained that a chabako is a box once used to store kimonos, as well as tea implements, made popular in the Sen no Rikyu era for use in outdoor tea ceremonies. With her special touch, they make the perfect addition to any room.

As Léia showed me some of her upcoming pieces, which will be shown in Rome in 2018, she talked about how her designs are inspired by her travels and nature, “especially the forms I see in nature”, she smiled. With her degree from Tokyo’s Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry and international stints in London, Vienna, Boston, Madrid, and Rome, Léia has plenty of inspiration to infuse her modern designs.

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One of Leia’s custom crafted chabakos

As we drove to our next stop, Flavia Liz shared some of the history of Japanese culture here in São Paulo. “With a large influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900’s, São Paulo is now home to over 1.5 million people of Japanese descent. And its influence is seen in the art, gastronomy, design, and culture throughout this huge metropolis.”

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Tomie Ohtake Institute’s striking façade

A near perfect example of this influence is the Instituto Tomie Ohtake. Mother to famed architects, Ruy and Ricardo, Tomie Ohtake was part of that Japanese immigration wave and reinvented herself as an artist at age 40. The embodiment of the phrase, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been”, Tomie went on to hold over 120 solo exhibitions in Brazil, and around the world in Milan, Miami, Tokyo, New York, and Havana.

Her institute hosts debates, research, and of course exhibitions that promote an understanding of national and international contemporary art, architecture, and design. Luckily, I was able to see the shocking and socially engaging exhibit of Yoko Ono, The Sky Is Still Blue, You Know. Known for her provocative and political art, Yoko’s works held true to her artistic signature of engaging with the spectators and seducing us to participate in the exhibit. museums-in-sao-paulo

As I walked through the exhibit, some of it was joyful and fun, like writing my wishes on the large tree in foyer, while others like the video of Yoko’s infamous and iconic 1964 Carnegie Hall performance, which allowed spectators to snip strips of her clothing, had me puzzled and pondering present-day power struggles.

But that is what great art is supposed to do, and it’s no wonder that Instituto Tomie Ohtake has staged shows of Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Josef Albers, all previously unheard of in Brazil. Tomie’s eponymous design landmark is definitely a must-see while in São Paulo.

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Next stop? A dining adventure at Ícone GastroRock in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo. Two tips for a visit to Ícone GastroRock: make reservations and come open-minded. With a tasting menu that changes weekly, you’ll want to book your seat at the table well in advance where you can watch the mastery of Chefs Roberto Satoru and Alexandre Ortigoso up close.

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The brainchild of Chef Roberto and Chef Alexandre, Ícone GastroRock’s menu fuses the ever-present Japanese influence into artfully prepared plates – all ready for that perfect Instagram shot! Roberto was a gastronomy pioneer here in São Paulo, opening one of the first temakerias and launching a food trend across the city, while Alexandre brings his own gastronomy chops with a strong background in all things ale and spirits.

I’m glad that I came hungry! My first dish was a colorful array of vegetables placed atop a hummus made with red lentils, but it soon disappeared and was promptly followed by the most sumptuous seared scallop set atop a bed of seaweed salad – OMG! Next on the list – a beautiful arranged tuna tartare with Asian pear, quail egg, and a delicate ponzu sauce. My favorite(and not pictured because I gobbled it down!) was a braised lamb paired with the most divine burrata I have ever tasted. I forgot how strong the Italian influence was in Brazilian cuisine until I tasted this dish – perfection!

Back in the comforts of Hotel Unique, I marveled at the contemporary design by João Armentano and sunk into one of the chairs off the lobby’s extensive library, adjacent to their secret indoor pool. Intrigued by the vast collection, I was debating whether to stay here and get lost in a book, or head up to the rooftop marvel that is Skye Restaurant & Bar.

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“I can read on the plane”, I thought, and with that I headed up to the panoramic views of São Paulo that awaited at the top of Hotel Unique. After my bartender tested my Portuguese, he crafted a cocktail that was the perfect accompaniment to this sweeping view. Quickly perusing the menu, I decided to have lunch here the following day so that I could enjoy the creations of award-winning Chef Emmanuel Bassoleil, consistently ranked among the world’s best. Sipping on my drink, I was already looking forward to my next stay at one of the world’s best hotels, right here in São Paulo.

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Contact me to visit São Paulo’s top luxury hotel!

 

 

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Rio By Design

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Botafogo was the first Rio neighborhood that I discovered over 15 years ago during my life-changing trip to Brazil. I immediately fell in love with its local, bohemian vibe and have always stayed in this central part of town – my home base for exploring the rest of Rio’s charms.

To make this hip neighborhood even more intriguing is the addition of new design hotel, Yoo2. Equidistant from the famed beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and in the other direction, bustling Centro where you’ll find Rio’s museums and historical sites, Yoo2 is poised to be the hotel choice when visiting Brazil’s favorite tourist destination.

Stepping into my suite, it was hard to break away from the expansive windows which offered sweeping views of Rio’s most visited landmarks: Sugar Loaf Mountain and the omnipresent Cristo Redentor sitting atop Corcovado. The views that inspired so many seductive songs…

What’s even more seductive is the view from the rooftop pool and lounge at Yoo2. With an eclectic mix of music that plays everything from Seu Jorge’s bouncing beats to those aforementioned songs by bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto, you’ll find yourself tapping your toes to the tunes floating in the background.

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Lenny Niemeyer’s Winter 2017 collection, Maori maillot, paired with bracelets by Marzio Fiorini

When speaking of design, especially in the world of Brazilian swimsuits and resort wear, nobody does it better than Lenny Niemeyer. Her enviable ensembles of silk, cotton, and other sensual materials are always a favorite of my personal shopping clients. In her recent collection, a stunning array of maillots, the designs are inspired by the art of Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa, bright koi fish swimming amongst geometric patterns, and my personal favorite – a cream colored backless maillot wirio-by-designth the Maori fish design.

Always a curious soul, I sat poolside and read more about the Maori fishing tradition. What fascinated me most was learning that the Maori fishermen would offer prayers to Tangaroa before their expeditions, since this ancient activity was considered religious. Using special stones in green flaxen nets to attract certain fish, they would return the first catch to the sea as an offering to Tangaroa, god of the sea. Despite being surrounded by plenty of fresh fish, the fishermen were not allowed to eat on these fishing trips and had to hold out for the promise of delicious seafood at the end of the excursion. I don’t think I would have fared well on this type of trip.

Luckily for guests at Yoo2, there is plenty of delicious food at the nearby rooftop bar. And in Lenny’s artful designs, you can easily go from poolside to the restaurant by slipping on some pants, a sarong, or a skirt to complete your look. Her boutiques are all over Rio, so your swimwear shopping is not far away…

During my stay at Yoo2, I ate at the rooftop bar as much as I could. Where else would you want to dine with this sunlit backdrop inviting you at every hour of the day? I had the bruschetta twice, and my hamburger disappeared too quickly to be photographed! Juicy and delicious, it’s right up there with other top Botafogo burger joints like Comuna and Hell’s Burguer. My Carioca friends who joined me for dinner one night definitely agreed.

It’s not your imagination that the food is the perfect compliment to this beautiful bay view. Chef Marcelo Shambeck changes the menu seasonally to match Rio’s local offerings, bringing only the best to Yoo2. Whether you’re dining poolside at one of the cabanas, in the open-air bar, or at their first floor Cariocally Restaurant, you can taste the freshness and local flair that Chef Shambeck adds to each dish. One of his signatures: 12-hour slow-roasted barbecue ribs. Wash them down with housemade pineapple juice infused with mint – you’ll need nothing else.

Another design expert is Rio-native Marzio Fiorini. Marzio, whose signature material is used to craft unique jewelry, home accessories, and most recently a line of biodegradable fragranced candles for Inspire, creates stunning pieces that pair perfectly with any outfit. The waterproof material is ideal for coordinating with your summer attire and looks great for warm-weather fêtes. Perfect for a pool party maven like myself!

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Lenny Niemeyer Koi maillot with Marzio Fiorini bracelets

I had the opportunity to meet this talented man at his Joá showroom in the cliffside abode that he calls La Suite. Sitting on the veranda overlooking a crystalline sea, Marzio and I talked about his start as a designer, his inspiration, and our meditation practices. “I get my inspiration from my farm retreat in Minas Gerais – to be away and think, I need it! I have it in my mind first – and then I just design.”

And his designs are stunning. So much so that they were captured in the Rio Olympics last year. An array of headdresses worn by the Africa parade during the marvelous opening ceremony showcased his creations to the world. Next up for his world tour? His vernissage that debuted in Rio last month will go to Paris, Capri, and Zurich this summer.

With the scent of Inspire’s dama da noite candle slowly wafting through Marzio’s gallery, it was hard to resist purchasing everything in sight. But I ended up choosing a gold-tone necklace outlining the shape of Brazil – the perfect souvenir from my visit to this amazing country. Upon leaving Marzio’s enchanting space, he gave a preview of the pieces in his exhibition named “O Rio que me inspira…Eu expiro!”. Inspiring it was, and I hope to see more of his creativity around the world!

Back in the comfort of my suite at Yoo2, I enjoyed some of the design details and special amenities that have all been curated to provide a true Rio experience. They definitely live up to their slogan “Be Cariocally” with coffee table books featuring Rio artist Vik Muniz, Globo, the ubiquitous biscuits sold on Rio’s beaches, and my favorite – tropical-smelling toiletries by Granado Pharmácias.

My visit to Granado’s headquarters started like any other corporate tour; the necessary check-in with security, a quick tour of the showroom, and a preview of their latest product line. But within minutes, I had the honor of speaking with Granado company president, Mr. Christopher Freeman, who walked me through this burgeoning beauty brand’s history.

Started in 1870 by a family of Portuguese immigrants, Granado Pharmácias has a product offering of fragranced soaps, perfumes, baby skin care, and my favorite – a line of cruelty-free, moisturizing nail polish. Talking about the company’s financial history, Mr. Freeman reminisced about the volatile economic conditions and his risky business move almost 14 years ago. “It was a period of hyperinflation here in Brazil. Everyday prices were going up; it was an inflation mindset. I found the money on June 17, 1994 – weeks before the Brazilian real was created.”

His risky investment paid off. Today under his leadership, Granado has no debt and is partnering with a Spanish private equity firm to bring the company’s offerings to the rest of the world, as well as an expansion plan within Brazil. Already in shops in Europe, like Le Bon Marché in Paris and Pau Brasil in Lisbon, Granado’s products will bring a bit of Brazil’s unique scents like Amazonian Breeze and Carioca to a global audience. My friends and family are always the lucky recipients of Granado’s soaps, an easy souvenir to pack in my carry-on!

Wrapping up my interview with Mr. Freeman, we chatted about his favorite places to travel – London and Paris, the renovation of Saúde which is the home of their new headquarters, and our shared loved of American football. A boyish grin accompanied the signed photo of his favorite team, the New England Patriots.

Eager to see the rest of Saude’s neighborhood and the new light rail that Mr. Freeman boasted he’d be taking to the airport, I walked along the back of the building and was greeted by bright, urban art and a rail stop that would lead me back to Botafogo.

The vibrant art is one of my favorite design elements at Yoo2, especially the elevator mural by urban artist Marcelo Ment. A Rio native, Ment is one of the pioneer’s of Rio’s graffiti scene, with his work now featured in major publications and art exhibitions around the world including Los Angeles, Boston, and most recently, New York for International Hip Hop Day. Ment shares his inspiration, “The works and stories I have been building are based on experiences and situations from day to day. I see art, above all, as a form of communication and a search for evolution in every way.” This evolution is definitely evident in Botafogo at Yoo2 hotel. Plan your trip and see for yourself.

Contact me to book your stay at this new design hotel in Rio!

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Photography: Arthur Martins

Swimwear: Lenny Niemeyer

Jewelry: Marzio Fiorini

Shoes: Melissa

Makeup: Chanel

Manicure & Pedicure: Granado Pharmácias

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