When Francisco Costa left Calvin Klein in 2016, after 13 years as the Creative Director, it would not be another fashion house he would seek. This native of Brazil returned to his homeland and found himself deep within the rainforest of the Amazon — not on the luxury cruise he had originally planned with friends — but with an indigenous tribe called the Ywanawas. It was here by chance that his newest venture was born, Costa Brazil.
Costa Brazil is an all-natural skin care line — a blend of powerful ingredients, sourced from the Brazilian rainforest — that Costa discovered on that first trip and multiple visits since. At the core of the line are body oils that blend mineral-rich Kaya, antioxidant-packed Cacay, and the aromatic healing properties of Breu. While Costa Brazil bears Francisco’s name, it is Brazil that is at the heart of the brand, embodying the connection between beauty and nature that distinguishes the place from which he comes.
The products are an olfactory delight, the essence of which is a resin called Breu, revered for its sacred aromatherapy benefits. It was the first ingredient Costa discovered on his maiden trip to the Amazon, and became the inspiration for the line. The aroma is hard to describe. It is exotic, like a place you’ve never been but want to go… a jungle, forest, or other some natural wonderland where the scent is so fragrant it’s almost intoxicating, and makes you want to return again and again.
I sampled the Costa Brazil oils in Bellport, LI this summer in a pop-up called Lateral Objects. Francisco has a home here as well, and insisted I try the oils when we ran into each other at the store. I recently sat down with him here in Bellport, wanting to know more about the scent and evolution of Costa Brazil.
STYLE OF SPORT: I knew about your new beauty line Costa Brazil, but now that I have tried the oils, I’m obsessed! I’ve stopped wearing my perfume and just slather this on. Tell us more about the fragrance and how the line evolved.
FRANCISCO COSTA: After I left Calvin, I wasn’t working and volunteered to help with the opening ceremony for the Paralympics in Rio in 2016. Afterwards I wanted to take a holiday to the Amazon with some friends. We organized a fancy trip on a private boat with cooks and this and that, but it got too complicated and we ended up canceling the trip. It had been a very tumultuous year, and I needed to get away. I didn’t want to go to a beach, but someplace that was more of an adventure. The guy who had been organizing our boat told me about another trip — a local tribe he was going to visit in the Amazon. It wouldn’t be luxurious he told me, but the opposite. ‘This is perfect’, I said. It was exactly what I wanted. And so I went to jungle to stay with the Ywanawas tribe for 10 days.
SOS: Did you have any idea what to expect?
FC: It was very intense and tough. We were in the middle of the jungle, sleeping in huts, with not much to eat really — just some protein bars we brought, nuts, fruit, and local fish. But there was this scent throughout the whole place. It was so beautiful. Really magical. I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe some plant, the trees, foliage? It was a big village separated by a river and there were fires always burning throughout the village — day and night. At one point I realized they were tossing these rocks into the fire which I was curious about. This I would discover was the Breu resin, which the Ywanawas use number one as a mosquito repellent. Throughout the entire time, I didn’t get one bite — only when I left the village to go fishing and then I got bitten like crazy!
SOS: I’ve read Breu is also known for all sorts of aromatherapeutic benefits.
FC: The indigenous people believe that burning Breu opens up and balances the chakras. They also believe it cures migraines and respiratory illnesses, and they breathe it in all the time. I took a rock with me and sent it to a lab. I found out that besides being a mosquito repellent, it was also anti-bacterial and anti-microbial. But what I was totally attracted to was the scent.
SOS: And you already had a fragrance in the works?
FC: Yes, I had been developing a fragrance with IFF and came back from the trip with my first ingredient. I brought the Breu to IFF, and they introduced me to the CEO of Natura, a large Brazilian beauty company. He invited us back for my second trip to the Amazon with their sourcing team.
SOS: How do you work with an indigenous tribe in the jungle to source ingredients for a commercial fragrance?
COSTA BRAZIL RESIN DE BREU AND PACKAGING INSPIRATION
FC: I realized despite their connections, Natura was actually too large a company for what I wanted to do. I reached out to Conservation International, a nonprofit environmental organization I knew well from their fundraising events I had attended. ‘How can we work together?’ I asked. ‘I’ve been to the Amazon twice and I can’t be sourcing from indigenous people. I can’t pay them. There is no contract, etc.’ They told me they had a department within Conservation International that does just this. They deal with local cooperatives and communities.
SOS: How perfect!
FC: It worked mutually for both. The mission of Costa Brazil is to create sustainable beauty products found in nature. Conservation International is dedicated to protecting the beauty and resources of the natural world. Today I sit on their board and it has been very gratifying to partner with them.
SOS: Tell us about some of the other special ingredients from the Amazon in Costa Brazil.
FC: I’ve now been to the Amazon four times. Whatever you pick, you find has these incredible healing properties. Originally I was thinking of doing shampoo, conditioner, scrubs, etc. — all scent based, all aromatherapy. But I realized the ingredients were so potent, it was disconnect to put them into a shampoo. We will eventually, but this was beyond an olfactory experience. It was a treatment, and that’s why we had to produce an oil first.
SOS: You’ve worked at Oscar De La Renta, Balmain, and were the womenswear designer at Gucci before Calvin Klein. Did you ever conceive you would do a beauty brand?
FC: I never thought I was going to do a traditional beauty brand, but one that spoke of beauty in a different way… food for your skin. I had a concept and a brand book before I left Calvin — even the packaging in mind. I have always felt grounded by the Arte Povera movement and the works of Piero Manzoni. His series of cans, Merde D’Artiste, I thought had to be packaging for a beauty brand. This was long before I went to the Amazon.
SOS: I love that you called it Costa Brazil too, and not Francisco Costa beauty.
FC: The Brazilian DNA exudes natural beauty and health. Although I’m not the face of the brand, it is still a designer beauty brand, one that is nontoxic, clean, transformative, and built as lifestyle. Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford… they are built on clothing. It’s strategic. If I do makeup, it won’t be so associated with fashion, but everything has to be conceived, conceptualized, and architected. It took 18 months to launch the first product, which we did with Bergdorf Goodman in December of 2018. We were the first beauty brand to have major window on Fifth Avenue. It was really glamourous and really fun!
SOS: I have the face and body oils — and some actual Breu resin you’ve given me to burn like incense, which is amazing. That is also available, along with a candle. What’s next for Costa Brazil?
FC: I’m working on bath salts next. There is Brazilian clay and other detox products to come – and also lower price point products like lip balm. There is also CBD balm — CB Active. Cannaboid exists in many plants and this comes from a resin and Passion Fruit. It’s very new and nobody has it yet.
SOS: You know I will be all over that! Thanks Francisco for sharing your time with us today.