THE THRILL OF BRAZIL ; Ahead of Brazil's Major Catwalk Shows, Liz Hoggard Found Fashion, Art and Cuisine in Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo

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EVERYWHERE we went in Brazil, there was Kate Moss -- blonde, nude, Bardotesque -- on the billboards. The May issue of Brazilian Vogue features a 60-page Mario Testino shoot with Moss, where she is styled with Latin American greats from Pele to Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and legendary architect Oscar Niemeyer.

It's all part of the celebrations for Fashion Rio (which kicks off in Rio de Janeiro this week), closely followed by Sao Paulo Fashion Week and Design SP -- the two most important events of the Brazilian fashion calendar. On the catwalk at Rio we'll see creations by Walter Rodrigues, Auslander and Lenny, plus the uber- sexy bikinis of Blue Man and Salinas.

Meanwhile, over in Sao Paulo in two weeks' time the Luminosidade group is hosting both Sao Paulo Fashion Week and Design SP (the high- end furniture, lighting and interior design fair). On the catwalks we'll see Osklen, Alexandre Herchcovitch and Tufi Duek (all tipped as labels to watch by British Vogue).

Design SP will attract architects, designers, collectors, curators and opinion formers from around the world. Taking place at Niemeyer's famous Oca exhibition pavilion in the Ibirapuera Park, it will celebrate the achievements of the Campana brothers and present them with the Designer of the Year award.

Brazil is Latin America's big success story. Foreign investment is pouring in; the discovery of deep-sea oilfields means Brazil is likely to become the world's fifth-largest economy. Little surprise it will host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

My trip began in Sao Paolo. With its Miami meets 5th Avenue vibe (the Financial District rivals New York), Sao Paulo is one of the most exciting -- and wealthiest -- cities in the world. It's also a city for art lovers -- from the Paula Rego retrospective at the elegant neoclassical Pinacoteca museum (until June 26) to the edgy contemporary galleries and graffiti studios.

The design scene is huge. Many concept stores have their own curators who blend fashion, music and visual arts. We stayed at the boutique Fasano hotel -- a design classic in its own right, with mid- century modern furniture, dark wood and exposed brickwork, plus a very cool cocktail bar and restaurant and a jewel-like spa. The Wallpaper magazine set all hang out here, but the vibe is incredibly welcoming.

The hotel is located in the upmarket Jardins district, five minutes from the designer stores on Oscar Freire Street (don't miss the Havaiana concept store and shoe designer Melissa's HQ with its frontage made out of post-it notes).

And the Sao Paulo restaurant scene is incredibly cosmopolitan. We loved the New York-style Dalva e Dito, with its spin on traditional Brazilian dishes (pumpkin stuffed with cream cheese and shrimp bobo; "pig in the can" with mashed potatoes and pequi fruit).

Another great choice is the Catalaninspired menu at the hip Mani, with its beach-style decor favoured by footballers and celebrities (run by cool female chef of the moment, Helena Rizzo). …