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Brazil's Top Designer, Alexandre Herchcovitch Considers Seeking Political Asylum Abroad

07/08/2013 - 09h08

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CHICO FELITTI
FROM SÃOPAULO

Alexandre Herchcovitch, 41, doesn't know if he loves Brazil or if he should leave it. The country's top designer was at the protests that occupied São Paulo bridges and riverside roads on June 17. But he is considering seeking political asylum abroad. "Just ideas," that have been crossing his mind, he says.

"I don't feel attached to São Paulo. I have absorbed everything the city had to influence me," he said a year ago in an interview to a website.

Even so, he took to the streets with São Paulo residents. "I walked a kilometer at the most, after two hours waiting to start walking. The next morning, his Twitter account caused virtual turmoil. The sentence he posted: "Why aren't there protests like this in the North and Northeast? That's where the corrupt politicians are elected."

He said the message came from a hacker who had invaded his profile, now cancelled. "I don't want to expose my life like that again."

Perhaps the distance from the national identity is one of the ingredients that made him big in fashion. "He was the first to feature an international concept in his style. It wasn't a Brazilian style, it really isn't. It's universal," says fashion consultant Costanza Pascolato.

She believes Herchcovitch could design here or anywhere in the world. Especially because he could easily pass as a foreigner because of his last name, although it is pronounced with a Brazilian accent. Its origin is Herchcovic, from Poland, where it is pronounced in a similar way. Folha 's section "Erramos" has already corrected his name four times, with nine consonants and three vowels.

REJECTING PANTERA

When he started to receive attention from the press in the 1990s, he was called the "Márcia Pantera stylist". Pantera was a famous drag queen in cheap São Paulo nightclubs - Pantera is now 43 years old and still works at clubs such as Nostro Mondo, on Consolação street, where she and Herchcovitch met -.
"He said he liked me and that he wanted to make me an outfit. I thought: "This queer must be kidding to say he's going to make me clothes!" says Pantera. He made her a white lace overall. And 300 other articles of clothing, of which only 15 still exist.
"I spent years lost in the nightlife. I stopped talking to him. I was ashamed of what I was doing. Alexandre is really square."

In his only store in São Paulo in Jardins, he says that he wanted to design clothes for a nearly 2-meter tall transvestite to "dress an interesting person, different form the friends who wore my clothes." The conversation is interrupted by a noise downstairs. "Do they have to talk so loudly?," Herchcovitch quietly asks the brand's head of marketing, who goes down to find out what is happening.

Returning, Daniel Raad says: "It's her." "Who?" asks Herchcovitch. Márcia Pantera herself, who came by to check on the outfit for the show she will perform to celebrate 25 years of her career. Herchcovitch doesn't ask his first muse to come up and see him. Neither does he go down to receive her.

His family says that after he started designing clothes for Pantera, new customers flooded in. "Many prostitutes started calling him here at home," says Regina Herchcovitch, 67, who let her first-born son use the living room of her apartment in Sumaré as a studio.

The house had already been a fashion center before that. Mrs. Herchcovitch started making women's lingerie after she left her job at a bank. Her supplies provided her son. "My lace underwear was not intended to be a fetish. It was the material I had at home," she says.

"I was watching the news and a prostitute would pass in front of the TV, walk into my room and look at herself in the mirror to check how the clothes looked," says Alexandre's father, Benjamin Herchcovitch, 68, an engineer and actor - he played Alexandre's father in an HBO series this year which featured Alexandre as a gay Jewish designer.

Divulgação
Alexandre Herchcovitch and his father in HBO series
Alexandre Herchcovitch and his father in HBO series

IF THE MONEY IS GOOD...

But the idea wasn't just to dress creatures of the night. Herchcovitch wanted to study abroad. At 14, he started to save money by selling handkerchiefs, T-shirts and backpacks. Still underage, he travelled to New York and applied for the renowned Fashion Institute of Technology fashion school.

"They told me that I had to start college in Brazil to study there." He studied art at Faap before he found out about the fashion undergraduate course at Santa Marcelina college. He began to study there but dropped out shortly before graduating, when he stared to work on major projects.

"Just before graduating, Paulo Borges -named the father of the Brazilian fashion- invited me to work on the Phytoervas Fashion show." The year was 1994, and he was one of the three designers to debut in the event that would become São Paulo Fashion Week.

Some ten years ago ("I don't remember very well"), he took exams to enter college again. "I thought I wouldn't pass." He did, and took the instrumental language course that he needed to complete the program and finally graduated.
Herchcovitch's family supported him in his professional and personal life. Herchcovitch's mother was convinced by her children to let them get tattoos. The three went together and each one got an insect tattooed on his hand. When they arrived home, they expected their father to scold. It didn't happen and today Benjamin has skulls, similar to the brand's trademark, tattooed on both arms.
Herchcovitch's mother and his younger brother, Arthur, began working for the designer in 1994. But his relatives were dismissed after the conglomerate InBrands bought the brand in 2008 - the amount paid (several millions) wasn't disclosed. "It was unexpected. I had been working with Alexandre since the beginning," says his mother.

"They changed a lot of things in the company. Today I see that it didn't have to be that way," says Herchcovitch, who had 30% of the brand before selling the brand.

Alexandre Herchcovitch is a top-selling name. He also lends his name to bed sheets, tablecloths and towels. In 15 years of licensing, his brand has been on lighters, band-aids, glasses, notebooks, backpacks, skateboards and cell phones. In all, he believes his team produces 1,500 items a year. He doesn't know how many products are articles of clothing. "Of course I've made products just for the money, I'm not going to lie."

But he isn't convinced by just any proposal. "I say more 'no' than 'yes'," he says. And he isn't afraid of making the brand commonplace. "I thought the market would become saturated, but I didn't stop." He still dreams of creating tiles, a car and a hotel.

Licensing means money for the brand and he has income goals to achieve. And he has been achieving them. His contract ended this year after five years as the brand's creative director. It was renewed. "I learned how to negotiate." At the begging, his mother set his products' prices. "I used to be embarrassed and set a low price. Today, I know how to charge a good price. I know how much I'm worth."

Edson Lopes Jr./Folhapress
SAO PAULO FASHION WEEK. Summer Collection 2014 of Alexandre Herchcovitch.
SAO PAULO FASHION WEEK. Summer Collection 2014 of Alexandre Herchcovitch.

WORKING FOR HIMSELF

He says he started working less ever since he began working under his own name. He gets to the office at 8 A.M. and has lunch at noon. At 5 P.M. he starts considering: "Can I leave yet?" He walks out and leaves the seven-member team, who use the same pen as he, so that the drawings look alike.

"It's not difficult to be a boss," he says.

A former employee says Herchcovitch's silence says much. "When he likes something, he quickly gives you feedback, saying it looks beautiful. If there's no answer after an entire day, you can go back to your desk and start over, because it's not good. But it's not said explicitly."

WITHOUT ROUSSEFF

"Please, don't cut it down here. And can you trim my eyebrow?" Herchcovitch asks his barber in a private room of the Celso Kamura beauty parlor on Consolação street. They met at a Miss Transvestite Brazil beauty contest 20 years ago. Kamura, 54, has been responsible for hairdos and makeup of Herchcovitch's fashion shows since then.

They were selected in 2010 by marketer João Santana to care for then-minister Dilma Rousseff's look, when she was running for president. Kamura still goes to Palácio do Planalto, the federal government's main office, once a month to cut the president's hair, but the partnership with Herchcovitch has ended.
He guarantees he made his best efforts. Herchcovitch flew to Brasilia, took outfits from her closet and reproduced them, "with few changes." I made a couple of blouses, two pairs of pants and other clothes. She didn't even try them on."

Marlene Bergamo - 18.ago.10/Folhapress
Celso Kamura making up president Dilma Rousseff
Celso Kamura making up president Dilma Rousseff

Kamura on the other hand, defines his fame as BR/AR (before Roussef and after Roussef). "People recognize me in the street now. I went to the interior of Bahia once and people asked if I was who they thought I was. It's fabulous!" Herchcovitch doesn't regret ending the partnership. "She didn't want it. I know I did a good job."

He says he deals well with rejection and bad reviews. "They don't affect me." He cites a review by Gloria Kalil, who considered the June 2004 models, inspired by Russian matryoshkas, "childish." "It's my all time best-selling collection so far."

If he had looked to his side at Celso Kamura's beauty parlor, he would have seen Gloria Kalil herself waiting to have her hair blow-dried. "Herchcovitch is a creator, not a designer. He destabilizes. He proposes the unexpected. The unusual."

His story is similar to that of British designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 40. Herchcovitch believes the similarities go beyond their first names, ages and the fact that both adopted the skull as their symbol. "We were in college at the same time. And we were both called 'enfant terrible'."

"Oublions l'enfant!", says Gloria Kalil in French. It means "let's forget the child." But the terrible remains. "He's no longer a child. He's grown up."

Settling down is part of the process of growing up. Known as a clubber designer in the 1990s, he isn't part of the nightlife anymore. "I didn't go out a lot even in the 1990s. Once a week, sometimes twice." Nowadays, even less.

He enjoys travelling. He goes to New York on business at last twice a year for the fashion shows in which he participates and to visit the apartment he bought in the city. He also goes to Tokyo once a year - he had a store there which closed in 2011 -. But he says he only relaxes when he goes to a deserted beach. "It's the only time when I'm not working."

His old companion is no longer there. Herchcovitch and DJ Johnny Luxo used to be the Batman and Robin of Brazilian fashion. Johnny worked as a model in Herchcovitch's first fashion shows. When Herchcovitch was elected by the Abit (Brazilian Association of Textile Industry) as the best designer of 2000, they both went on stage to receive the prize: Herchcovitch wore four-inch pink high heels and Johnny 18-inch high boots.

Zanone Fraissat - 21.mar.2013/Folhapress
Alexandre Herchcovitch
Alexandre Herchcovitch

"I don't meet him any more because his life has taken another direction. Herchcovitch still has the store, his 50,000 licensing agreements and his boyfriend," says Johnny.
Not a boyfriend: a husband. That is how Herchcovitch refers to Fábio Souza, 36, the owner of a second-hand store called À La Garçonne, which he opened on Oscar Freire steet on June 15.

They have been together for seven years and live in a penthouse in Higienópolis. They signed a steady relationship agreement in 2010 at a notary public in Praça da Sé. They have five small dogs. Two are "Chinese Crested", a breed that won the World's Ugliest Dog award from 2003 to 2005.
The couple is now planning a wedding party in the strictest sense. Souza has already made a list. Herchcovitch is negotiating to reduce the event to a dinner party. "It's enough, isn't it?"

Herchcovitch lost ten kilos in recent months by avoiding sweets and reducing the amount he eats. And he just got a new tattoo, a stylized version of the right hand bones. As if the skeleton were appearing through the skin. Is he becoming the skeleton that he chose as his trademark? "It's not because of the brand."

The skull has nothing to do with the famous scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet. It first appeared at A Hebraica club, of São Paulo's Jewish community. "I was about 15 years old, and I met [now a stylist] David Pollak. He said he wanted a skull T-shirt and I designed it." Identity on delivery. "It's not an issue for therapy. I still use it because it's a top selling product."

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

Read the article in the original language