Francisco Costa’s Scents & Sensibility

Francisco Costa
Photo by Weston Wells surfacemag.com

Scent is the only sense that directly links us to emotions and memories. It helps transport us and ease our anxieties. Since the pandemic, scent has become even more critical. On June 4th, The Fragrance Foundation announced the finalists for its 2020 awards via a webinar. The 2020 Award ceremony is this September,

Costa Brazil Resina De Breu and Jungle Candle
Photo: livecostabrazil.com

The foundation introduced new categories to recognize genderless scents and product format innovation. Costa Brazil’s Costa Resina De Breu is one of five innovative Fragrance of the Year Finalists. It is part of Francisco Costa’s sustainable skincare and home scent collection, which launched in December 2018. Francisco co-founded Costa Brazil with Michele Levy, the chief executive and founder of Ilhabela Holdings.

Costa Brazil uses all natural products that come from the Amazon Rain Forest
Photo: fairplanet.org

The Breu fragrance is derived from an intoxicating-smelling anti-bacterial resin in the Almacega tree found in the Amazon rain forest. The natives revere it for its healing aromatherapy. It is used for centuries to treat respiratory diseases, as a mosquito repellent, to ease anxiety, balance the 6th chakra, and enhance mental clarity. As it slowly burns, the stone releases a relaxing, woodsy aroma of rich earth and crushed leaves. This magical, multi-functional product beautifully packaged in an accompanying metal tin that is chic enough to be displayed on a coffee table.

In an email, the President of The Fragrance Foundation, Linda Levy, hailed Francisco as “a unique & multifaceted talent whose debut in the fragrance world is welcomed with open arms by The Fragrance Foundation and the community. Francisco’s creative aesthetic combines a sophisticated simplicity with extraordinary ingredients, and the resulting products are inspiring! Francisco has incorporated his love of nature and his passion for sustainability plus giving back to the planet earth in all of his Costa Brazil line, including a candle, body oil, and body crème. They are truly magnificent and part of my beauty regime.”

During a recent conversation I had with Ms. Levy, she confirmed that the categories of spa at home and home fragrances, (both of which incorporate Francisco’s Costa Brazil collection), are burgeoning sectors of the fragrance business. “Ever since the pandemic, more and more people are staying at home. They want to create their own personal escape. They are taking luxurious baths, using lotions, home fragrances, candles, diffusers, and home spray. Fragrance transports you to another time and place. The Zen it creates will continue forever. It is a new way of life and is not about to end”.

Francisco Costa celebrated the launch of Costa Brazil with Caroline Trentini and Camila Coutinho
Photo: vogue.com

This week, I spoke with Francisco. He explained that he started the beauty concept a year before he left Calvin Klein in 2016. It was not a “reinvention” but an extension of who he is. Costa envisioned Costa Beauty as an all-encompassing lifestyle brand. He shared the idea with the Calvin Klein Corporation. While there was no interest, he felt strongly that the world was changing, and he needed to do something else that was more genuine, something that would enable him to express himself at its fullest, both conceptually and intellectually.

Francisco Costa used photo prints of animal patterns for his final collection for
Calvin Klein Collection Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

The jumping-off point for Costa Brazil was Italian artist Piero Manzoni’s subversive approach to art. It then moved to the painstaking search for the most authentically beautiful ingredients. Costa made it very clear that he was not interested in creating a brand in which he just went to a lab and put a label on a product. “You can draw a parallel to my work as a designer. I used the same techniques. Each season, I created most of the textiles for my collections, and I did the same thing instinctively with Costa Brazil. I felt there was no other way around”.

Tribal people of the Amazon Rainforest
Photo: yurtopic.com

Francisco said that when he left Calvin Klein in 2016, he took six months off. The turning point for Francisco was an “insane” trip he took to the west coast of the Amazon Forest. It was in partnership with Conservation International, and Francisco lived with the Yawanawa tribe on the banks of a river. It was an exhausting trip but a journey of discovery, life-changing, and transformative. It was at this time that Francisco discovered the gorgeously scented Breu resin which Costa likens to incense.

Costa Brazil Kaya Jungle Firming Oil
Photo: livecostabrazil.com

There would be more trips back to the Amazon. Francisco worked with a team of scientists and local agriculturists to combine advanced modern technologies with the natural world’s nourishing powers. He created the singular high potency Jungle Complex: the nutrient-rich trinity of Kaya, Cacay, and Breu. This complex created the brand. It helps rejuvenate the body by producing retinol. It is trademarked and at the core of the five Costa Brazil products. Francisco promises that his vitamin c rich oils will give your skin a beautiful glow. Customers have reported that the products have cleared up rosacea, healed cuts, and burns.

The Costa Brazil line is currently available on their website as well as online luxury websites such as Netaporter, The Webster, Cult Beauty in England, and Niche Beauty, in Germany. The brick and mortar stores that carry the products include Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Comme des Garcons, Galerie Lafayette, and Blue Mercury. Costa Brazil is a small company, and they are building the brand slow and steady. They have had a great response, and their business has increased during COVID-19.

Calvin Klein Collection Spring 2009 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

Francisco designed the bottles and packaging, which he describes as “classics reinvented to give you functional simplicity.” Just like the minimal yet sophisticated clothing designs which garnered him the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award in 2006 and 2008. Francisco also won the 2009 Cooper Hewitt National Fashion Design Award. Ralph Rucci referred to Francisco as “one of 6 greatest designers in the world”.

I asked Francisco if he misses fashion. “I would absolutely love to go back to fashion, and I have many ideas of how I would like to come back, but we have to rethink what fashion means. We have to give fashion a purpose, like everything else. I have done organic sourcing, and it would be more of a lifestyle collection.” Francisco was always one step ahead and passionate about sustainability.

Francisco Costa used recycled yarns for the Calvin Klein Collection Fall 2014 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

He believes he was the first designer in America to abolish furs’ use more than 15 years ago. Francisco traveled to the knitwear mills in Italy and Scotland, bought all the leftover yarns, and built his fall 2014 collection on recycled yards. When the Smithsonian honored Francisco, it was for a sustainable collection that was shipped flat without packaging so it could be stacked.

Vivian Caccuri with her painting, Mosquitos Also Cry, 2018

In November, Francisco will be teaming up with Vivian Caccuri a local Brazilian artist in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in Brazil. Francisco will produce a five-piece conceptual collection built around the idea of malaria protection. Who knows, perhaps Francisco can work on an anti-COVID-19 collection in the future. As always, the push and pull between form and function are at the heart of whatever Costa does. There is no question that Francisco is beloved, and much missed within the fashion world.

Fashion Group International’s Creative Director Marylou Luther summed up Francisco’s broad appeal “I don’t know of any other major designer in the world today who is as highly regarded as a human being as Francisco Costa. He is adored by so many, way beyond his design talents.”

Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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