Like jazz and orthodontics, malls are an American invention. But the Stateside versions pale in comparison to their Brazilian counterparts. In Brazil, where the middle class has more than doubled in recent years, malls are more than monuments to conspicuous consumption: these one-stop shops offer not only a conga line of the world's leading labels -- from Lanvin to Goyard and Topshop -- but also exert a cultural influence over their environs. The family-owned Iguatemi Group -- which opened the first mall in Brazil in 1966 and these days has 13 locations across the country -- is the pioneering force of Brazilian retail. We recently caught up with CEO Carlos Jereissati Filho during the SP-Arte/Foto fair held at the JK Iguatemi location in São Paulo to talk shop.
It's staggering to think that the middle class in Brazil has ballooned as much as it has in the recent past.
Absolutely. We're talking about 50 million people becoming 100 million people in a big market. This has completely changed how people perceive the country. There's now a huge middle class that is hungry for luxury brands but if you want to touch these people you really have to connect with them, you can't suppose that they know you because you're a hundred years old. You have to come to them and present yourself and your brand. If you can bring out the designer, if you can do events and lectures that really show what your brand stands for, it really helps.
For the uninitiated, how are malls different in Brazil?
I really believe that in Brazil malls are very different than what exists in the U.S. or even in Asia. In the U.S. the malls are in the suburbs; in Asia they're kind of enclosed vertical malls. In Brazil our malls are downtown and they are very open and integrated with the city. They are very convenient and lively places where you find not only shops but nice restaurants, fitness centers, cinemas, theaters, museums, all sorts of things that make them very relevant. It's a very particular concept.
Plus, Brazilians are a very gregarious people and they love to meet and be in groups so this sense of belonging is very important because we want to be part of a group, we want to be part of a place that we feel connected to.
In addition to special touches like a VIP lounge and concierge services, I think it's interesting that you place such a premium on culture.
As the customer has evolved people are more and more hungry to learn about things. Culture fits in the overall program because people having less and less time and want to combine everything they do in life so it's not only about going to a place to shop. It's important for us to help to educate our customers. To have the culture within this space is very interesting because it's very convenient for people. As a result we have had many cultural initiatives over the years, not just SP-Arte/Foto, where the most important galleries in Brazil showcase their photography, but we also have an art program inside our malls, we sponsor exhibitions and events dedicated to art, we sponsor books, and we have many artist appearances in our stores. And, of course, we have a curator who selects works by young artists for our permanent collection that we rotate across our properties.
How important is digital to you at Iguatemi? I notice that you have pre-paid electronic parking tags, touch-screen store locators, high-speed Wi-Fi...
I think technology plays a very important role nowadays especially if you consider that this generation wants everything to be very dynamic. They want to see more and more interaction between what we do and their opinions, how they react to things. Of course, in business the more you have data/information, the more you can help to provide new services to the customer. I think we are entering a new era and we're going to make the experience of coming to a mall much more technological, much more interactive than it is today.
Walk me through what you mean by offering brands a 360-degree turn-key solution.
We were the first ones in this business and when a lot of brands started coming here it was very important to us to know all their needs, all the information that they needed to enter the market. We helped a lot of brands that had no knowledge of the Brazilian market to enter the country. We have 13 different venues in Brazil so we help them not only to get inside the country but to establish themselves in great locations across the country.
Another term I have heard bandied about is this idea of beautiful contradictions. Can you explain that?
The luxury business is still very young in Brazil, and when you think of this new consumer in the 21st century it's much more complex and mixed. The consumer wants to have everything in one place. The concept of beautiful contradiction reflects that mix that people want in a space: the fast and the slow; the local and the global; the high and the low. We try to create an environment that puts all those brands together in a new way, and it's worked pretty well because the consumer who is wearing Havaianas today is the same lady who wears a big diamond ring. There is no difference whatsoever these days.
You practically grew up in these malls.
My sister and I used to go to the shopping centers a lot on Saturdays and my father said "Ok, you are not going to just be playing around, I'll give you a dollar if you count the bags and see who's selling the most" so we'd have to go around counting bags to see who was selling and then we would let him know. Nowadays I know the sales figures in my head but I still pay attention to the bags and to the traffic inside the stores because my head is educated to do that. For me it became natural because I started as a kid.
Text by Horacio Silva for Crane.tv