South American style traverses the world with Frescobol Carioca, a resort wear line that celebrates the wonders of Rio de Janeiro. It all started back in 2009 when Harry Brantly gifted his friend and co-founder, Max Leese, a set of frescobol bats (Brazilian beach tennis) while they were on a surfing trip in France. As the two played the game, people stared and curiosity ensued. They realized that they were sharing a piece of Rio’s lifestyle with Europe and there was significant potential for bringing the Carioca lifestyle around the globe, sparking the birth of the flourishing beach-inspired fashion label.
The duo set out to create sustainable frescobol bats, linen shirts, beach trousers, and trunks, all of which sport Rio-inspired patterns and colors. Each piece beautifully encapsulates the essence of the Brazilian lifestyle while providing an uber-chic summer wardrobe. We sat down with man-on-a-mission Brantly to talk about his career path, the inspiration behind the brand, and his favorite things about Rio. Read what he had to share with us below.
You launched your brand in 2013. It had a concise idea – to spread the joys of the Carioca lifestyle. What makes this way of living so appealing for a clothing line?
It is all about the Cariocas’ attitude. They prioritize spending time having fun with their friends and family, rather than working 24/7. I think this is reflected in their dress sense, as you never know where the day will take you. This carefree, easygoing approach to life is what we aim to emulate in our collections with pieces that can take you from the beach to the bar.
What’s behind the name Frescobol Carioca?
Frescobol is a beach game born in Brazil, played between two people who rally with one aim: to not drop the ball. Unlike other bat-and-ball games, frescobol players are partners rather than opponents who, with a non-competitive spirit, work together to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. It perfectly embodies the Rio way of life: cool, active, and always friendly. We joke that its Brazil’s second national sport (after football, of course). Max (my business partner) and I came up with the idea for the brand when we were on a surfing holiday on France’s west coast. We didn’t actually spend much time surfing; instead, we were playing with these beautiful beach bats that Max received for his birthday and people were really curious about the game. They would stare and ask questions, and that’s when we realized we had introduced Rio’s beach lifestyle to another part of the world. We knew we needed to make this our own; we knew these bats could open up other avenues for us. Inspired by the game of Frescobol and what it represents, along with the Carioca lifestyle, we came up with the concept for Frescobol Carioca.
You come from a finance background. Do you remember the moment that you wanted to tap into the world of design?
Max and I left our full-time jobs to focus on our brand after we had the idea bubbling in the background for a couple of years. We continued to work during that time, but the catalyst for us to make the jump was the attention the bats pulled in during our time in France. That was the real lightbulb moment, the realization that we could bring the game and spirit of Rio to a new audience. We really wanted to build a brand, and we knew that resort wear was a big opportunity for us. At the time there were very few brands doing resort wear in the menswear market - no supply but a lot of demand, so we decided to do it ourselves. We just saw the opportunity because no one had really done it. We wanted to do it big. We wanted to bring the Carioca lifestyle to the world. We wanted the first thing you think about when it comes to Rio not to be football or the architecture, but Frescobol Carioca.
You’re born in Rio de Janeiro. What is it about this place that makes it such a special one?
Rio is laid-back, sexy, and indefinably cool. It combines its irresistible inhabitants with an incredible backdrop encompassing rainforest, pristine beach, and modernist urban architecture. This juxtaposition between the beach, rainforest, and the city is what makes Rio such an aesthetically diverse and exciting city, unlike any other.
How does its landscape lend itself to your creative designs?
There’s so much inspiration to find in Rio. From the art to music, landscape, and vegetation, the culture is so rich. Rio is the meeting place of the tropical Atlantic Ocean, the Sugarloaf Mountain, and the lush Amazon rainforest, a city that has developed around the curves of white sand beaches. There’s so much creative opportunity within their rich and varied culture that it can be difficult for us to choose what element to focus on each season! We take a cue from all elements of the landscape and the varied environments and translate certain elements into colors, prints, or silhouettes. Our three house prints are direct translations and interpretations of celebrated locations in Rio: Copacabana, Ipanema, and Angra. Our Jardim Botânico Collection took inspiration from the colonial botanical gardens in Rio. The architecture that forms part of the landscape is integral to our designs, too. Our Modernismo Collection was based on Oscar Niemeyer’s works, and our Paisagem Collection came from Roberto Burle Marx’s landscape architecture. Niemeyer continues to be a great source of inspiration to us, as one of the most fundamental figures in modern architecture. His work is highly visible all over the country too, he is very celebrated over there. We do look to all aspects of the culture, though. Our products are not just beautiful and well-made; they really have a story and a culture behind them. Recently, we looked at Bossa Nova music – we were inspired by the original record covers from the 1950s/1960s albums.
You have a signature print that pays tribute to the sidewalks of Rio. Can you tell me a little bit more about this?
The unique sidewalk mosaics that line the beaches inspired two of our house prints (Copacabana and Ipanema) and feature heavily in our campaign imagery. The sidewalk mosaics are so unique and identifiably Brazilian. Each season we refresh and re-work these prints to update them for the new collection, either by playing with the proportions or the colorways.
You’re no stranger to collaborations – how do you choose who you collaborate with?
We have to do things our own way to make an impact on the market, such as working on exclusive collaborations. We did one with Louis Vuitton for a show a couple of years ago in Rio and we’re always on the lookout for the next opportunity. It’s important for us to collaborate with brands and companies that share our values and ethos so that it creates an authentic result.
Your core products have evolved since the brand's inception. Where do you want to take the brand in the future?
We want to continue in our efforts towards sustainability. Each season we look for new ways to make the brand more sustainable. This is a very important focus for us as an environmentally-conscious company. We have a specific in-house team dedicated to developing and researching products and processes that are more eco-friendly, sustainable, and environmentally-conscious. We also consult with local authorities to gain advice on how to improve our sustainability status within our supply chain. In some of our apparel, we currently use Tencel, which is a fiber spun from Eucalyptus sap and therefore biodegradable. We produce our swimwear and apparel in Europe in a step to try and reduce our carbon footprint. Our beach accessories are sustainable too – our beach bats, surfboards, and skateboards are all hand-crafted from wood off-cuts from the Brazilian furniture industry. We are also conscious to reduce textile waste, and so rather than constant product drops, we prefer to launch a curated collection of styles seasonally to sit alongside our signature styles, which are available all year round.
Let’s talk about the Beach Tennis product you launched. Why was that an important move for Frescobol Carioca?
This was the starting point of our idea and concept for the brand – we realized we could introduce Europe and the rest of the world to the Carioca lifestyle, of which Frescobol is an integral part. The sustainable beach bats were the first product we launched, as they formed the foundation of the brand. They are now what we are known for, and we’re very proud that they are sustainable (made from off-cuts from the wood industry in Brazil).
Who, in your opinion, is the ideal Frescobol Carioca man?
We have many customer profiles that we cater to, but our typical customer is someone who has the luxury to travel with friends and family and enjoys discovering and absorbing new cultures. He has his own individual style and doesn't prioritize trends, but comfort and quality instead. He is also environmentally conscious and this influences his decisionmaking when shopping.
What are some of your favorite places to check out in Rio?
Granado is a traditional apothecary house, with its roots going back centuries. It sells soaps and body lotions made from guaraná, açai, and other tropical berries and herbs, making it great for presents to take back home. To really soak up the culture and gain an understanding of the local Cariocas, it’s important to stop by one of the “cobals” (casual markets) which happen on dedicated days of the week. Definitely an early walk around the Jardim Botânico. Burle Marx was partially responsible for the layout, and it houses thousands of species of tropical plants. Because of all the vegetation and proximity to the ocean, it is often cooler than the rest of the city, making it a great way to clear your head and start the day. It’s somewhat cliche, but a visit to the Christ The Redeemer has got to be done. It gives you the vast scale of the city and until you are up there, you don’t quite realize how interconnected the sea, sand, mountains, forest, and concrete jungle actually are. Then, spend as many sunny days on Ipanema as time allows and make sure to order the açaí and granola pot on the beach - an unbeatable breakfast, especially after a few caipirinhas the night before.
Before we end, tell me a little bit about the visual identity of Frescobol Carioca. What do you want your campaign images to convey about the brand and product?
It’s important to us to create a campaign that is evocative of Brazil and really makes you feel like you’re being transported there. Many of our customers may not have had the opportunity to visit Brazil, so we feel like we have to help them understand and appreciate the rich and beautiful landscape. We want our images to convey the laid-back yet sophisticated and cool Carioca, who has the luxury of spending their time on the beaches and beyond. Our campaign is an edit of what we think is the best of Brazil. We then curate the images to show on our social channels.