Photos By Weston Wells
No longer hostage to the demands of the fast-paced fashion industry, the former Calvin Klein designer introduces his new project: a socially responsible, slow-luxury lifestyle brand called Costa Brazil.
By Elsa Da Berker.
Shortly after stepping down from his role at Calvin Klein in April 2016, Francisco Costa booked an airplane ticket to Brazil. The former creative director, who headed the American heritage brand’s womenswear division for 13 years, needed to disconnect from the world of fashion and reconnect with his roots. “I realized that I didn’t know my home country very well anymore,” he reflects from inside his meticulously furnished apartment in New York City. “Ileft 30 years ago and would only visit for short periods of time, like a week or 10 days. I wanted to switch off and immerse myself in my native culture and explore the outer limits of its wildest regions.”
What began as a vacation soon became a work trip. An idea that had been lingering at the back of Costa’s mind—an all-inclusive, luxury lifestyle brand called Costa Brazil—began to take shape. “As soon as I touched down, the whole feeling of my trip changed,” he enthuses. “Suddenly I felt like I was on a personal mission. Being back in Brazil, being deep in nature—I can’t explain it—everything had such a sense of wonder and surprise. Every minute was thrilling and scary.”
Costa began his journey in the the state of Acre, a northwestern territory that borders Peru and lies within the Amazon rain forest’s 2,123,562-square-mile remit. After boarding a small plane in Brasilia, he flew to Cruzeiro do Sul, a small municipality located in the state’s western region. A five-hour drive across bumpy terrain led him to the banks of the Gregório River, where he boarded a narrow canoe and set off on a further six-hour journey with an anthropologist, a guide, a photographer, and a filmmaker he had hired to document the experience. “The reality of the situation was quite brutal. I didn’t know what to expect, and as we moved deeper into the forest, I was struck by the thought that I didn’t really know anyone in the boat and that anything could happen at any moment.”
Anything could and anything did happen when the canoe’s propeller fell off three hours into the expedition. The depth of the water and the fast onset of dusk made the odds of retrieving it unlikely. There was no replacement propeller on board and cell phone reception was nonexistent. In low spirits, Costa and his fellow companions realized they would have to resign themselves to spending the night camping on the sodden banks of the river. But then something miraculous happened. “An indigenous man with a bold red stripe across his face appeared almost silently alongside us. He dived into the water and emerged seconds later with our lost propeller,” Costa recalls with a rapt whisper.
Their savior, as chance would have it, belonged to the Yaminawá tribe—the first tribe that the foreign explorers were scheduled to stay with on their 10-day trip. The designer pinpoints this fateful meeting as a defining moment in the development of Costa Brazil: “I understood then that to make my idea a reality, I had to start with beautiful native ingredients and listen to the wisdom of people like the Yaminawá. I had to know as much as I could about every supply chain, fiber, and natural material I was interested in using. I needed to ensure that my brand would have great integrity—both socially and environmentally speaking.”
Costa had a notion of launching his new brand with a small range of beauty products, so he concentrated his initial efforts on sourcing the most potent natural ingredients from underneath the rain forest’s dense canopy: He studied extraordinary seeds, vast varieties of coconuts, and nuts with names that have yet to be introduced to Western dictionaries. He teamed up with Conservation International—an American nonprofit that helps mitigate climate change, protect essential native resources, and support indigenous people—to employ timber-free suppliers, an essential factor in securing the Amazon’s future. He worked with packaging experts to find responsible solutions for excess waste and superfluous wrapping.
“Every minute was thrilling and scary.”
“As much as I want Costa Brazil to be about luxurious, elevated products, I want it to be part of the conversation that changes the way society thinks about the environment,” the designer explains. “I find it so unfortunate that the fashion and beauty industries have become hostage to a situation that’s not good for the planet. Fashion is the second-largest pollutant in the world, the denim industry is awful. When are we going to wake up to what we’re doing? Being out of that market and away from the seasonal calendar of fashion week after fashion week, I can think much clearer now. There is no stop button in fashion. Every season, there is so much waste. Costa Brazil is about making fewer things at a slower pace and collaborating with other brands to foster creative responsibility.”
The brand is officially slated to launch in September 2018 with a select handful of formulas, but Costa has plans to expand into every corner of the lifestyle sector eventually. Polished homeware, furniture, art, and—yes—fashion will all be a part of Costa Brazil’s ethically sound lineup at some point. In keeping with the brand’s ethos, nothing will be put into production until it’s perfect. “I want to give people what makes them feel good and help nature shine in the process,” says Costa. “It’s a fresh vision. It’s conceptual. It’s unorthodox. But I think that people are ready for it.”