THE INSPIRATION TALK
HI BETINA! TELL ME ABOUT GROWING UP IN RIO DE JANEIRO.
When I was young, adults were always saying: “in my time Rio was so safe that we could play on the streets without supervision” so I guess I grew up in a different Rio, less safe. I used to live in São Conrado, in front of the beach, and had so many friends living in the same condo. It was very nice. In Rio you grow up with the city, the beach and the mountains. Not so cultural but I guess kids don't really care. I grew up on the beach and I loved it.
And then I wanted to see the world! (Laughs). Between the age of 14 and 18, I spent two months in a family in Cambridge to study English, three months in Spain and France to study Spanish and French and a couple more in Florence and Rome to study Italian. After that, I went back to England and did a post-graduation course in Fashion Merchandising and Communications at the London College of Fashion.
WHAT DID YOU DO AFTER YOUR STUDIES?
While I was still at University, I had a multi-brand shop in Rio that I managed with a friend. We used to travel to São Paulo to buy rising cool designers like Neon (Dudu Bertolini’s brand when he was just starting it) or Triya Swimwear… We had that small shop for almost three years, in Leblon.
After this, I went to work with Filhas de Gaia, a very cool brand then in Rio, focusing on fashion shows and marketing. I learned a lot there. When I got back from the London College of Fashion, I started working as a consultant before taking on a full position as a marketing coordinator at the Fashion Mall, in Rio. The boyfriend I had at that time was working for the London Olympics, which was a great excuse for me to spend another 4 months in England. Right before leaving for London, I met my (now ex) business partner (editors note: Brazilian designer Marcella Virzi). We got along so well. She loved my style and suggested we worked on a capsule collection for fun. That is how it all started. Really genuinely. So I went to London, I took a short course of Jewellery Making in Central Saint-Martins and when I came back, we launched an accessories collection under the name “Virzi+DeLuca”. It was a huge success; one month after the small launch in Rio, Gisele Bündchen was on the cover of Vogue with our necklace and bracelet! It was crazy, so many people were reaching out to us and we didn't have a shop or anything yet. So we created a Facebook page and started selling through it!
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN SUCH A SUCCESS WHEN YOU WERE NOT EVEN A DESIGNER NOR THINKING ABOUT IT PROFESSIONALLY?
I always loved accessories and dressing myself up and I had a desire to explore more about it. When I met Marcella Virzi we were aligned on everything fashion-wise. We felt we completed each other: she as a designer and I as a stylist. At some point she simply suggested we should do something together. When I came back from London I knew I wanted to do my own thing so I quit my job in marketing and worked on Virzi+DeLuca for almost 4 years. I learned so much with her.
HOW DID YOU CATCH THE EYE OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY HERE?
I was always good at PR! But I think my style was what people were looking at. I always mix a lot of things that have nothing to do with one another but at the end they match. I guess people started to think it was cool. And I know a lot of people here, although Rio is huge, we always hangout in the same places.
Of course when I started to work with Marcella who was already a big name in the industry, it helped. The media loved our line and our “brand”. I was the “it girl” and she had this great experience to share.
THE POWER AND IMPACT OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN BRAZIL IS HUGE. I WAS IMPRESSED TO WITNESS HOW QUICKLY AND EARLY ON BRANDS HERE UNDERSTOOD IT WOULD ALLOW THEM TO HAVE DIRECT AND PERSONALIZED CONVERSATIONS WITH THEIR CONSUMERS AND HOW THEY INTEGRATED THESE CHANNELS (INSTAGRAM, WHATSAPP) TO THEIR SALES STRATEGIES. WITH YOUR OWN INSTAGRAM PROFILE YOU OBVIOUSLY HAD A PLATFORM TO COMMUNICATE AND ADVERTISE YOUR OWN BRAND. WOULD YOU HAVE DECIDED TO VENTURE INTO A BUSINESS IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THAT VOICE ALREADY?
We have a very expensive workforce in Brazil, which isn’t even of good quality. So it’s crazy for anyone to start a business and think they can earn money right away. So, yes I definitively think already having a voice helped a lot. A lot. A lot!
We started with an offline launch for 150 women at the Fasano where we sold everything. And suddenly everybody was asking about the brand and where they could buy it. Back then, in 2012, we didn’t have any e-commerce and at that time Instagram wasn’t such a thing. On the other hand, Facebook was huge. So we created our brand’s page and people started to organically send messages asking us about our products and giving out their credit card details and we simply delivered! And still nowadays we sell much more though WhatsApp than through e-commerce. It’s crazy because you would think a proper e-commerce should work better, but people want to talk directly to you. They want a personalized customer service and sales experience. It is very cultural; here in one minute you become intimate with anyone you talk to. Sales persons in shops have a “friendship” with their clients. They talk to them via Whatsapp, they even ask their clients to send them selfies trying on the items they’ve just purchased!
IT IS AMAZING THAT THIS WAS ACTUALLY AN ORGANIC “STRATEGY” YOU PULLED UP TO ADDRESS THE SUDDEN INTEREST FOR YOUR PRODUCT.
Imagine before, people had to invest lots of money in marketing and advertising. Nowadays, if you have five thousand followers and you post a picture you know it will reach out to a lot of them, directly. So much more impactful.
AND YET YOU ENDED UP THE VIRZI+DELUCA COLLABORATION. COULD YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT?
When we started out, our first products were embroidered necklaces. To produce them, we worked with seamstresses in a small atelier in the center of Rio. It was perfect for us because these were not high costs. But then we thought: “how many embroidered necklaces can one woman have?”; we needed to diversify our offer. With metal you can do anything you want. So we started to look for a brass foundry but couldn’t find anything in Rio, until one day when I met a guy who was a gold-dipping artisan and happened to have old foundry machines. He wasn’t using them full time and offered to lend us the machines in exchange of becoming partners.
Next thing I know we started up our own foundry! We had 15 employees working for us and we also had a shop in "Dias Ferreira" (editors note: one of Rio’s finest retail streets) with an office, a marketing manager, sales persons… We were exporting worldwide to big retailers like Net-à-Porter, Harvey Nichols, etc. It was really good but it was a hard life, we were working a lot. Our foundry was far away in the middle of a favela and yet we had to go there every single day. When you work in fashion, everybody thinks about the glamour side of it but there is this whole other side too!
And then my partner got sick. She had a little boy and wanted to enjoy life with him and maybe go live abroad. We had built Virzi+Deluca together so I started thinking that it didn’t make sense continuing it without her.
After that, I sat for six months wondering about what I could do next. But I really missed it. Soon I started doing capsule collaborations under my name and consulting for brands. It has been going super well since! I really believe in collaborations.
THAT’S ACTUALLY ONE OF THE REASONS I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO HAVE A CHAT WITH YOU. I FEEL THAT COLLABORATION ORIENTED PROJECTS ARE THE FUTURE FOR BRANDS ALLOWING THEM TO RENEW THEIR IMAGE MORE FREQUENTLY TOO. I ALSO FEEL OUR GENERATION IS CHANGING A LOT; THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A LIFE-LONG CAREER ANYMORE. WE NO LONGER WISH TO DEDICATE OUR WHOLE LIFE TO ONE SINGLE TALENT WE HAVE.
Our generation is multi-tasking.
IF I WANT TO PUT IT IN A POSITIVE WAY MAYBE IT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH BEING MORE CONNECTED TO OURSELVES, LIKE LISTENING TO OUR GUTS WHENEVER WE FEEL THAT WE MIGHT HAVE THE TALENT OR PASSION THAT COULD LEAD TO SOMETHING, WE LISTEN TO OURSELVES AND WE GO FOR IT. OR MAYBE WE ARE JUST BORED MORE EASILY AND WE JUST DON’T WANT TO WASTE TIME ON THINGS THAT DON’T INTEREST US ANYMORE…
I think we allow ourselves to move on more easily also.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN SOMEONE THAT YOU COLLABORATE WITH?
Creativity is the first thing I look for. I have to admire the person’s style and kind of know them a little bit too. They become your work partner; it is an important relationship. You sign off a product with both names; they should have some credibility in the business. With Leo Neves from WaiWai for example, we get along very well. But I don’t think you need to have the same tastes and skills, on the contrary I think you need to find someone who completes you. Leo is really good at production, suppliers, techniques and details. I am very good at finding new inspirations and concepts. Usually it goes like:
- “My dream is to do a bag like this!” and he’d be answering:
- “Okay this is how we are going to do it.”
A CAPSULE COLLECTION IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM FOLLOWING ONE BRAND’S DNA AND YET YOU SEEM TO ALWAYS INCLUDE SOMETHING INSPIRED FROM THE SURREALIST AESTHETICS IN YOURS.
This is so true. I learned a lot from Marcella who would always tell me that the hardest thing is to find your own DNA. Here in Brazil you see a lot of brands copying other brands. I am really thankful I found my own identity, which, like you described, is all about maxi proportions.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT RIO IS THIS INTERGENERATIONAL MIX; IT IS VERY COMMON FOR YOUNGSTERS TO HANG OUT WITH OLDER PEOPLE. AND THEY REALLY HAVE FUN TOGETHER. PEOPLE HERE ARE NOT AFRAID TO EXPRESS THEIR INDIVIDUALITY. MAYBE THAT IS WHAT MAKES EVERYONE OF ANY AGE, INTERESTING. DO YOU HAVE ANY MENTOR OR SOMEONE OLDER WHOSE OPINION YOU VALUE ABOVE ALL?
My grandmother! She loved to dress herself up. She was always wearing turbans and lots of big bold earrings. I always admired her and we had this in common. She was my muse. She was someone that I always looked up to and you know, it’s my blood, so I trusted it.
Exactly. I have to keep up with this. She was one of a kind.
SO WHAT’S YOUR NEXT PROJECT? DO YOU PLAN AHEAD OR ARE YOU A REAL CARIOCA TAKING IT DAY BY DAY (LAUGHS)?
I’m a bit of both but actually I am getting more organized now. Not only am I building my website with my portfolio which will also have an e-commerce section but I would also like to plan my next travels which will become my inspirations for future collections. After the collaboration with WaiWai last October, it sold so well that we decided we should work on a new project together.
The first step is to go somewhere inspiring, do a big research about culture, fabrics etc. And then come back and create a whole collection out of it. After the Moroccan Collection, which we just launched, I think I would like to explore India. And this is also possible because we don’t have any fixed costs or employees. I spend money producing one collection at a time and that’s it.
THAT IS ALL THE BEAUTY OF CAPSULE COLLECTIONS: FEWER COSTS AND GREATER BRAND DESIRE.
Exactly! The opposite of having to call my clients every other month like “come to the shop, let’s have champagne, we have new items to show you.”
YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE A COMMON SIGNATURE STYLE IN ALL OF YOUR COLLABORATIONS BUT I FEEL THIS FORMAT ALLOWS YOU TO REINVENT YOURSELF IN A GREATER WAY.
I can choose my projects and the brands I collaborate with can be very different. I never get bored. After this collection, I will be doing a project for Schutz and then I have another collaboration planned for the end of the year with WaiWai and a brand from Brasilia called Abi Project. She is huge in this part of Brazil where it is really good for me to expand to.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM PROJECT?
I used to have a dream... It’s a crazy thing and it has nothing to do with fashion. I don’t think about it so much anymore though. I used to take singing lessons, but then I discontinued because I am already 31 years old, why would I start singing now? But music is a thing that I really love.
WHAT KIND OF MUSIC DO YOU LOVE?
It’s nothing very specific but I love Brazilian music. I love Caetano Veloso. I love bossa nova. I love MPB. I love Novos Baianos. And I love Studio 54’s music vibe in general.
YOU SHOULD TRY TO FIND A WAY TO INTEGRATE THAT SKILL OF YOURS IN YOUR COLLECTIONS.
I am already modeling my own collections and even if it works, I sometimes feel really ashamed about myself… I feel people would get really confused like: “Who is this person? What does she do? She designs, she models, she does the PR… and now she sings?” (laughs).
YOUR BRAND IS EPONYMOUS SO WHO BETTER THAN YOURSELF TO EMBODY IT? BUT I UNDERSTAND THAT SOMETIMES PERSONALLY YOU’RE NOT IN THE MOOD TO PUT YOURSELF OUT LIKE THAT.
Yes totally. Sometimes I’m just exhausted. It started when I was working with Marcella who would always push for me to model our collections. One time, as we were working on a new collection supposed to be exported, our London-based agent told us to hire a “real” model. According to her, the face of the collection couldn’t be one of the designers, as it would have been seen as a brand with cheap means. So in order to look more professional, we started working with professional models. Funny enough, it worked for the foreign market but not in Brazil. Here they prefer to see me (laughs). Something about authenticity maybe…
LUCKY US IN BRAZIL THEN ;)
CHECK OUT BETINA'S BRAND NEW SITE TO DISCOVER ALL HER LATEST COLLABORATIONS.
Photographer : Nayara Barros
Creative Direction : Lisa Debatty
Production : OuiSimone
More on Betina here and here.