Beachwear label Totem – surfer chic from Ipanema
The beach will always remain Fred d’Orey’s first love, and he spends as much time as he can in and on the water. Grabbing one of his boards, the white-haired giant of a man only has to cross the street from his house to hit the beach and paddle through the surf.
The ocean is my source of strength and inspiration. Without surfing, I would never be able to create the kind of fashion I do.
Just a few minutes by car from the beach, Totem’s headquarters are located on the first floor of an unassuming house in the Botafago district of Rio. Several tan and young and lovely girls are already awaiting Fred’s instructions to get started. All told, Totem employs a workforce of almost 200 people both in Rio de Janeiro and in Bali, where its main manufacturing site is located.
Everything began simply because I needed to earn money to pay for my surfer lifestyle and the traveling that goes with it.
From the start, Indonesia had always been his dream destination on his quest to discover the perfect wave. To him, a breaking wave embodies the idea of perfection because it can never be held and possessed. And even today, Fred d’Orey is not overly enamored by business plans and Excel spreadsheets – possibly because he continues to value his freedom far too much to spend the whole day thinking about the company and, as he puts it, chasing after money.
The idea of making shorts with textile prints came to him one day while he was surfing in Bali. "I'd always loved bold patterns with vibrant and contrasting colors," he says. He learned a special local printing technique the native craftsmen employed and used it to manufacture a few pairs of sample shorts. Then he approached the owner of a Brazilian boutique chain who was so enthusiastic that he immediately placed an order for 10,000 shorts. Fred now had his first order although he was not at all sure how he was going to honor the contract. He flew back to Bali and somehow managed to organize the production for the ordered shorts. After that, he began to receive ever-larger orders from delivery to delivery. In 1994, he opened his own store in Ipanema and offered a beachwear line for men under the label Totem. The brand became very popular and he soon started a collection for women as well which before long was to become their core revenue spinner.
Brazil is a tropical country. It's hot here, and the sun shines a lot. There is no point in gearing our fashion to the somber, sedate European style. We are closer to Africa than to Milan.
Brazil's rich cultural treasures serve Fred as a continual source of inspiration. "We need to look at ourselves and see that we have great diversity thanks to our history as an immigration country. This is a feature that Brazil should be proud of." In 1998, Fred d'Orey started presenting his collections at the Rio Fashion Show. This established his reputation as an influential Brazilian designer and he has, in the meantime, expanded to eleven outlet stores. He personally manages all the creative processes himself – including the photo shoots. And a striking feature in his ads, catalogs and on his website are the recurring themes from rock culture and music. "Music and culture have always had a powerful influence on me.” Born in 1962, Fred grew up in a time when rock gained popularity in Brazil and started blending with the indigent Bossa Nova.
His podcasts on the Totem website have attained cult status. And five years ago, he initiated a music and film festival in Rio that has meanwhile received a lot of favorable attention. Using his status and credibility, Fred also acts as a leading figure in the current anti-corruption movement in the province of Rio.
Fred sees himself as a political sort of person and has no desire to mingle with the rich and the beautiful in Rio. As the offspring of a Brazilian Formula One pilot and the daughter of a Swedish Ambassador to France, Fred soon discovered that surfing was the turf in which he excelled. Today, he is still closely connected with the surf scene and counts John Seaton Callahan – the “Indiana Jones” of surf photographers – among his best friends. Together with some other surf aficionados, they are always on the go to discover yet another excellent surf spot in the world.
"Basically my main task in business is to say no," Fred explains. No to designs he thinks dilute the tone of his fashion, no to those who try to tie him down. The latter is crucial for him in order to maintain the sense of peace and inspiration the ocean gives him. In a land where women are accustomed to wearing flip-flops and sandals all year round, the clothes they wear should be geared to this casual lifestyle. As if they are made to be carelessly tugged out of a beach tote and pulled on over a body still glistening from the Atlantic waves.
His most important employee is Design Director Yamê Reis who maintains the continuous development of the Totem style. The mother of world-class surfer Maya Gabeira, she is in touch with the fashion taste of the young generation and does not hesitate to experiment with fabrics that are new to the Totem line such as silk or woven textiles. "In the future, although we will continue with our beach experience lifestyle, we also intend to create fashion suited to the upbeat cosmopolitan lifestyle of the new Brazil," says Fred.
Even the most sure-fire formula for success can become a trap if it is not continually developed. Thanks to our prints we have achieved an excellent position, but we are being copied more and more. We need to stay one step ahead of our imitators.
"Soak up and interpret is our motto," Fred states. "It would be the end of the company if my sense of curiosity were to strand."
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