Most outside of the international luxury-shopping sphere have probably never heard of Daslu. It is ranked #13 of 236 things to do in Sao Paulo by Lonely Planet but it’s recognition goes far beyond what I imagined when I first started researching its history out of curiosity. Known as the premier place to shop in South America if you are amongst the (.0)1%, its status as one of the most luxurious fashion emporiums in the world now joins the ranks of Lehman Brothers, Enron and Arthur Anderson… well sort of.
Its beginning however, was much different. In 1958 Lucia Piva de Albuquerque Tranchesi, a high society wife of one of Sao Paulo’s elite lawyers loved high fashion. She traveled the world shopping and bringing back multiples of her favorite items to then sell to her friends because at the time Brazil was closed to imports. Over time Lucia’s small living room business in the Vila Nova Conceicao neighborhood of Sao Paulo grew to fill her home so she purchased the house next door. She hired help, more specifically the daughters of her friends because they came from Sao Paulo's best families and like their moms, understood luxury brands. The name, Daslu spawned from “In Lu’s House,” something her close friends and customers began calling it. Eventually she had to keep open and closing hours to manage the clothing, shoes, jewelry and bags as well as the hundreds of vehicles lining the streets with customers. From a young age Lucia’s daughter, Eliana also started working at the store, even creating and designing her own label. Sadly in 1983 Lucia died of cancer and Eliana and her brother took over.
In the late 80’s Brazil democratically elected a leader for the first time in over 26 years. The economy was a bit of mess so import restrictions were eased and that set in motion the next phase of Daslu. Eliana’s vision was to bring the heart of luxury not only to Brazil but also to all of South America for the first time. Valentino and Moschino were among the first to find her store (or rather she found them) and Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Zegna and Dolce & Gabbana followed soon after. She was still in the VNC neighborhood occupying homes (23 to be exact) with over 70,000 clients. Finally the city zoning prevented her from further expansion and she decided to build an Italian styled Villa to uniquely rival all other shopping stores. And stand out it did, situated near one of Sao Paulo's favelas it's architecture and austerity created a lot of controversy and picketing, especially once clients began swarming in literally by helicopter to shop.
That is what I finally went to see. 180,000 square feet of palatial rooms fit for queens (and kings as men’s clothing was also sold in the new location). Those friends of Eliana and her mother still working for her became known as Dasluzette’s, beautiful sales girls employed to greet you at the door, meet your every request and take you around the Villa room to room to shop. Men were not allowed in the women’s departments and there were no dressing rooms as you just tried things on in private salons with the Dasluzettes and your best friends. Each fashion house leased their space from Daslu and was laid out much like their intimate origins, individually styled rooms. The Ferragamo room was like the Ferragamo store in Italy, designed and executed not by Daslu staff but by the Ferragamo design team and every brand was outfitted in a similar approach. There is also the Daslu brand, cultivated by Eliana to stand prestigiously alongside the 4,000 square foot Luis Vuitton store inside Daslu.
The more than 200 sales girls and maids, each with appropriate uniform, kept everything running smoothly hoping to leave no stone unturned. The champagne bar on the second floor, the restaurant and cafes with top notch cuisine were just the beginning of the VIP experience. Many celebrities and soccer stars (Ronaldo was a frequent customer) flew in via helicopter with spouses and friends landing on the top floor to meet for high tea and a little pampering to accompany their shopping extravaganza. Beyond the food and the fashion brands Daslu aimed to be the first so-called 'lifestyle store.' There was a spa, a facialist (booked 5 months out minimum), hair parlors, housewares stores with a Viking showroom and barbecue displays, a papery to design your own stationary, chocolate shops and a bakery that specialized in wedding cakes. Speaking of weddings, there was also a chapel, reception rooms and a ballroom seating upwards of thirteen hundred people overlooking the city. Many Paulistas were married at Daslu, booking everything from their registry to their honeymoon all in the same place. There was a nightclub and even a man cave with a bookstore, fireplace, Johnnie Walker whiskey bar and a tobacconist. In case that didn’t meet your fancy, there was also a yacht dealer, Maseratti dealership, luxury real estate and travel agency and even a dealer to buy one of the Daslu styled helicopters on display in the lobby. The kids department was akin to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory so everyone in the family was covered. Just in case you need a good dose of chitchat there was a gossip and news section on the website. Need a dentist? Pediatrician or Physiologist? Ballet studio? They thought of everything at the Villa Daslu Educational Center next door. Here, employees had a day care, nursery, a school for children up to 14 years old with a cafeteria and music school. Everyone from the janitors, security guards and valets could use those services which was a nice gesture considering over 1700 employees worked around the clock to ensure Daslu met the highest standards in security and comfort.
But that was then, and sometimes all grand things beyond their time come to an end, in dramatic fashion. A few weeks ago I witnessed this end, like walking into Barney’s New York after the world is over, a few fancy dresses hung on a long rack made for 50, elegant French styled frames hanging crooked on the wall, empty shelves and stalled escalators to closed floors and areas. I wasn’t assigned a Dasluzette, or had anyone follow me anywhere minus a few stranded maids attempting to keep things tidy but the problems were bigger than a duster feather could take care of. I valeted for $20 (because you don’t have any other choice unless you walk or cab there) and witnessed not the beginning of the end but the end of the end for this building, this lifestyle paradigm.
In July 2005 under 'Operation Narciso,' over 300 federal police and tax agents raided the offices and store. Eliana and her brother were fined US$110 million in back taxes. In 2009 they were both sentenced to 94 years and 6 months of jail time for everything from organized crime, embezzlement and forgery to tax evasion and conspiracy. She had been trading commodities abroad using counterfeit notes and according to testimony falsifying invoices and listing things well below market value to reduce the duty taxes. Eliana thought this punishment was a bit harsh considering she was no danger to society. She was afraid without her the 50+ years of work her family had done to establish the name and the brand would be lost and that the Government Tax authority might need to her carry on the store so she could pay back the money. She had also been undergoing treatment for cancer in 2006 and had hoped she might receive leniency in the sentencing. The public was torn, some saying she did wonders for the country and others feeling like she flaunted excess and privilege at the expense of others. She did go to jail but as most blue collar cases go, not for long and she has since been released under Habeus Corpus with appeals pending. She had to sell her store and her brand though, and while there is another Daslu brand store in the fancy Sao Paulo mall, Shopping Cidade Jardim along with another planned for the new JK Iguatemi shopping mall, the Villa Daslu brand is now under management of Iguatemi mall operators (Iguatemi Empresa de Shopping Centers S.A.) while they continue to pay off debts to the government. There are also plans to take the brand to other South American countries in the future, and in an interview last year Eliana hoped be able to advise for the brand. The fate of the building is unclear, as of December there were two rumors, one that it will be torn down and the other that it will be refurbished for office space. For now everything at the store is on 80% clearance, what is left will be moved to the new location at JK this year, and it remains as I saw it, ghostly and stoic. Timeout magazine said, "There's a Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire air about the place..."
All that is left is the Daslu brand. There are now multiple Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci etc. stores in the malls of Sao Paulo and Rio today. Without the family ownership and the signature building its just a name and a story, one she hopes to write very soon so people know how she and her family put Brazil on the fashion map. Asked if she regrets anything? “Tudo valeu a pena.”
(Backside of the building, sortimentos)
(back in the day, http://vocecommodamakeup.blogspot.com/)
(fashion show in the lobby, http://exame.abril.com.br/)
(wedding chapel, http://curticomunicacao.blogspot.com/)
(one of the terraces, http://agbnews.blogspot.com/)
* Check out Paul Keller's photostream of pictures to see what it looks like now
Sources: ISTOE independente, Timeout Sao Paulo, UOL noticias, World Luxury Guide, Wikipedia and Deluxe by Dana Thomas