Stuffed yellow birds hang from the ceiling of the Palácio Castilho in Lisbon’s Príncipe Real neighbourhood. Bags of coffee beans line the stone steps and dense tropical plants abound. Strains of a violin solo (yes, it’s that girl from Ipanema again) waft across the building.
Welcome to Brazil in Lisbon. At least, the Brazil envisioned by Rui Gomes Araújo, a Portuguese entrepreneur who gathered 17 brands to showcase the best the South American nation has to offer. From the outset Casa Pau-Brasil was destined to be more than a retail space: it’s a foray into the Brazilian imagination, intended to grab the attention of the high spenders flocking to this part of Lisbon. Araújo and his team spent four months renovating the entrance and first floor of the palatial building. The whimsical interior designs create a world of lusotropical cool with quirky coconut lamps and entwined wooden sculptures by Hugo França, making the space just as attention-grabbing as the products on offer.
The flavour of Brazil is everywhere, from toucan-heavy images on the tins of Q Chocolate from a plantation in Bahia to Frescobal Carioca shorts embossed with the Burle Marx-designed swirls of Rio’s fêted pavements and Maria Oiticica’s jewellery made from seeds and tree bark from the banks of the Amazon. From Nina Write notepaper to furniture pieces by the late Sérgio Rodrigues, this excavation of contemporary Brazilian style has found the right place at the right time. “I have worked with Brazilian brands since 2011 and this is the next step; Brazil is now seeing Portugal as a place of opportunity,” says Araújo. “Now we have the French, Germans and even Brazilians themselves, who are buying houses in this neighbourhood.”
Casa Pau-Brasil borrows its name from the Pau-Brasil movement, a manifesto and book written by Brazilian modernists to raise the profile of Brazilian culture and language in the heyday of the 1920s. As a concept shop, some products on offer here are inspired by or imagined in Brazil rather than made there. Its intention to act as an embassy goes beyond the colourful motifs: there are plans to turn it into a venue for cultural events too.
“Bringing Brazilian soap to a country whose heritage cosmetics market is so huge could be seen as a risk,” says Nazish Munchenbach. She’s the marketing director of Granado, Brazil’s first apothecary, which was founded in 1870 by a Portuguese pharmacist. “But there are few stories about a brand that returned after 150 years, like our own.”
History is no burden for furniture designer Jader Almeida either, despite his display’s proximity to some celebrated chairs by Sérgio Rodrigues. “We respect our traditions but they don’t weigh heavily on us,” he says. The young designer, whose mellow pieces were brought to Casa Pau-Brasil by Portuguese buyers QuartoSala, perhaps offers a final clue to the selling appeal of his nation. “Brazilian design is free because Brazilians are free.”
Entrepreneur Rui Gomes Araújo amassed 20 Brazilian brands to showcase the nation’s design chops.
The newly renovated Palácio Castilho on Rua da Escola Politécnica in Príncipe Real.
What to buy
Poltrona Linna chair by Jader Almeida
Design classic in the making.
Benjoim hand cream by Granado
Nourish your skin with a cream enriched with açai, passion fruit and rice oils.
Swimsuit by Lenny Niemeyer
Hit the beach in swimwear famed for flattering cuts and eye-popping colours.
Mole chair by Sérgio Rodrigues
A playful chair by the Brazilian design icon.
Online shops are a cheaper way to hawk your wares but a space with presence adds to the experience for shoppers and bolsters your brand. This renovated palace is an excellent embassy for Brazilian design. The Lusophone connection does much to ease business and fresher designs sit well next to the works of Brazil’s modernist masters.
The Príncipe Real neighbourhood is worth lingering in (not least for the leafy park). Book a room at the Memmo Príncipe Real hotel, take a tour of the independents on Rua Dom Pedro V and visit Embaixada, an embassy-turned-retailer chock full of Portuguese goodies.