Ipanema: top of the shops

Kaye Holland reports on Rio de Janeiro’s burgeoning shopping scene

Beaches. Bossa Nova. Football. Food. Sun. Samba. Rio de Janeiro has long been known for the aforementioned but, thanks to its booming economy, the Cidade Maravilhosa can also add ‘sensational shopping’ to its deep bag of attractions.

And what do cashed up, image conscious Cariocas (Rio residents) want to splash their Reais on? Why clothes, of course, for as Bruna - a taut, tanned PR professional informs me: “Image is everything, right now in Rio.” Consequently, stores have sprung up across the Samba state, but the best are found in upscale Ipanema.

Immortalised in song, Ipanema is famed for its icing sugar sands but good retail therapy is another draw. Make no mistake: Carrie Bradshaw and the girls would feel at home here.

You’ll find leading luxury brands - take a bow Burberry and Louis Vuitton - along tree lined streets, such as Rua Garcia D’Avila. This is the address favoured by the cast of Mulheres Ricas (Rich Women) - a popular reality TV show revolving around the lives of wealthy Rio women.

Nonetheless Ipanema isn’t all about international designer barns. In recent years, a buzz has been building around home grown labels such as Salinas and Alexandre Herchcovitch.

Walking down Rua Visconde de Piraja, my favourite ‘Made in Brazil’ fashion find is Gilson Martins, full of lust-have handbags, adorned with images of Corcovado. At nearby Luko, I browse through some sexy fashion statements – think slinky halter tops. Leaving with a lighter wallet, but looking infinitely more stylish, I am again distracted by another standout boutique, Forum, showcasing the uber-cool creations of much touted Brazilian designer, Tufu Duek. With a bountiful supply of denim, evening wear and everything in between, this is the kind of boutique I wished I lived around the corner from.

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Local men’s boutique Redley catches my eye, selling board shorts and couture beach duds. “The men’s fashion market is growing very fast,” says the good looking sales assistant. “Rio guys are much more fashion-conscious now, and like to experiment with their look.”

Showing off the tan on Ipanema’s white sands must be done in style. I am thinking rio dental (dental floss bikini). Osklen is all about fashionable yet flattering beach styles for men and women in eye catching colours -guaranteeing to turn a few heads. The Rua Maria Quiteria store is staffed by smiley assistants (but then owing to the white beaches and near perpetual blue skies, Cariocas have a lot to smile about) and chances are you’ll bump into them in a bar later that night.

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Regardless of whether you plump for a racy cut-out swimsuit or a tropical coloured bikini, swimwear should be accessorized with the ubiquitous Havaianas. These humble rubber sandals are Brazil’s biggest export, and come in every colour of the rainbow.

On the jewellery front, H Stern is the big headline grabber, but personally I’m mad about Maria Oiticica whose products have been made using Amazonian ingredients and, as such, are easy on the environment - if not the purse strings.

For funky home furnishings, Interstudio is where it’s at. Here we snap up wooden carvings by Pernambucco artisans, without worrying how to get them home (everyone knows somebody who has a friend who has a cousin who can help out).

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A love for books takes me to Livararia da Travessa. The ground floor is chock full of coffee table tomes and foreign language titles, while the second floor houses a selection of CDs and a buzzing cafe. Tip: try the innovative salads, washed down with Brazil’s national cocktail: the Caipirinha - Ipanema is the sort of place where having one too many cocktail is a given.

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A few blocks away lies Toca do Vinicius, a small music emporium named after Vinicius de Moraes the man credited with creating Bossa nova music. This is the place to buy quintessential Brazilian souvenirs. The tiny museum upstairs, dedicated to the life and works of the Brazilian music legend, is also worth a visit.

Ipanema has a couple of stellar shopping centres and, unlike in Europe, malls aren’t only for red faced expats and holidaying footballer’s wives: they’re beloved by locals too. I visit Forum de Ipanema and Ipanema 2000. Cheap they aren’t - this is a neighbourhood that loves to revel in the luxurious side of life - but as I was on a trip of a lifetime, I wanted to do it in style.

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That said, I did put my bargaining skills to use at the Hippie Fair - where character and local charm, rather than inflated prices are found. Held every Sunday in Praca General Osorio, the Zona Sul’s most famous market should satisfy even the most serious of shopaholics. I browse though everything from jeans to jewellery and handicrafts, before heading to the south east corner for a salgado (snack).

Ipanema offers more than just a day at the beach. Spending just the smallest amount of time strolling around the leafy backstreets will lead quickly to the delights of Ipanema’s elegant boutiques - filled with fab things to see and buy. The future of Ipanema’s shopping scene is as bright as the Brazilian sun.