Francisco Costa has always been a trailblazer. During 13 years as creative director of womenswear at Calvin Klein, the Brazilian designer defined the minimalist aesthetic that swept the fashion world in the early 2000s. And long before sustainability was all the rage, he produced collections from dead-stock yarn and clothing that could transform into flat objects to take up less space for shipping and reduce carbon footprints.
Shortly before leaving Calvin Klein in 2016, the art enthusiast was inspired by Piero Manzoni’s Merde d’Artiste (Artist’s Shit) collection of 90 tin cans with simple labels and – supposedly – each containing 30 grams of faeces to create a beauty-packaging concept. Those initial ideas soon evolved into a concept that would become Costa Brazil, a clean luxury beauty line launched in December 2018 and newly available in Hong Kong.
“I wanted to create something unique with strong Brazilian DNA, focusing on the purest indigenous ingredients found in the Amazon and creating a unique balance between nature, beauty and conservation,” Costa says. “Growing up in Brazil gave me an inherent appreciation of nature and an understanding of the beauty of simplicity. In Brazil we celebrate ease, happiness. We embrace the sensual rather than the sexual. In Rio, there’s a way of greeting people: ‘E ai, belleza?’, which means ‘Is everything beautiful?’
“I went back to Brazil while in the early development stages of the brand and took my first – of many – trips into the Amazon. This is where everything clicked; the delicate and perfect harmony of nature and the Earth as the essence of beauty.”
In fact, Costa felt drawn to the Amazon as soon as he left Calvin Klein. In the rainforest he learnt about native ingredients and traditional healing rituals. He met members of the Yawanawá tribe, explored open-air markets in Belem do Pará, and worked with chemists and botanists at a small laboratory in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. All of this led to Costa and his team discovering the “exclusive beauty trinity” that now powers every product in his concise collection.
“I had a very distinct brand concept, which changed as soon as we discovered the three ingredients that make up our Jungle Complex, two of which have never been brought to market for skincare or cosmetic use,” Costa says.
The first ingredient he discovered – which is still his favourite – was breu, an aromatic resin taken from the almacega tree and considered sacred by the Yawanawá tribe. “It’s unlike anything you’ll ever smell or experience,” says Costa, who suggests burning raw chunks of breu to enhance peace of mind, balance the sixth chakra and reinstate harmony to a room.
While breu provides Costa Brazil’s products with their captivating fragrance, kaya and cacay provide a range of potent skincare benefits. Kaya, a powerful antioxidant harvested exclusively for the brand from sapucaia trees, has long been considered a superfood in South America for its blend of essential fatty acids and rich vitamin content. It’s also the key ingredient in Kaya Anti-Aging Face Oil and Kaya Jungle Firming Body Oil, which both work to boost skin hydration, texture, firmness and radiance.
Cacay, meanwhile, is a vitamin-rich oil and natural source of retinol that reduces the appearance of ageing, fine lines and other environmental stressors. It also provides much of the hydration in Costa Brazil’s Body Cream along with murumuru butter and Brazil-nut and tucuma-seed oils.
In keeping with the founder’s philosophy that “the spirit of beauty is inseparable from the health of the Earth”, most ingredients are wild-harvested to ensure no trees are cut down in the process, and packaging is made with sustainable, recycled and biodegradable materials whenever possible. All Costa Brazil products are also vegan and free of parabens, phthalates, PEGs, silicones, sulphates, gluten, glycols, mineral oil and artificial colourants.
The brand is certainly a far cry from where it started, with Costa’s ruminations on Manzoni’s Merde d’Artiste, and it appears this is only the beginning. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see the impact we’re already having – there’s a community in the eastern Amazon that now works full- time to harvest cacay plants for us,” Costa says.
“I seek to create a business with longevity, a feeling of slow luxury. I take my time to consider each element, and if it means delaying a product launch to make sure we can trace the origins and sourcing methods of our ingredients, or find the perfect custom packaging that’s both beautiful, functional and inherently good for the Earth, then I know I’m doing my job. There’s a wealth of natural ingredients that have yet to be tested and unearthed; we’ll see how we can continue to create impactful products that benefit the local communities, while maintaining the Earth’s abundance.”
Costa Brazil is available in Hong Kong via Net-a-Porter.com.