HOST TO football's World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016 Brazil is poised to take centre stage. But while conventional associations of Brazil fixate on Rio's image as a sand- and samba-fuelled tropicalia of supermodels it has another side, no less dynamic, in simmering Säo Paulo. Despite the city's chronic congestion and the bickering of more than 450 private helicopters taxi-ing between its skyscrapered rooftops, Säo Paulo's abuzz with innovative fashion, art, design and gastronomy that run parallel to its passions for football and Grand Prix motor racing.
Wealthy Paulistas visit must-see Daslu emporium by helicopter, where in-store waiters provide complimentary espresso, biscotti and sparkling water while shoppers browse the high-end clothes and lifestyle fare. Go retro-futuristic on salubrious Oscar Freire (home of Havaianas) and be inspired by the '60s inspired shoe store Melissa; no shoes are visible, but scroll down a video terminal and ask supermodel staff what you want to try.
Art and design are in fashion, too. The 30th Bienal de Säo Paulo now showing in Oscar Niemeyer's Ciccillo Matarazzo pavilion runs until December 9 and features such talents as Beijing artist Xu Bing, Brazilian painter Lucia Laguna and sculptor Alexandre da Cunha. A newly launched event, Design Säo Paulo, will put the city on a par with illustrious counterparts in Milan and Berlin, as a platform for ideas driving Brazil's contemporary and future aesthetic, a commercial barometer of Säo Paulo's cultural evolution.
If art and design don't grab you, architecture will. Niemeyer - now 104 and still active - designed the sinuous curves of the Copan Building and the Italia, its towering neighbour. His buildings - for example, the Auditorium with its snaking red tongue - elevate and upscale Säo Paulo's streets and parks at every turn.
Hotels are many and varied; from decadent and legendary Fasano in Jardim Paulista district, to hip boutique Hotel Unique, a metallic postmodern smiley - locals call it melancia, watermelon - by Niemeyer protégé Ruy Ohtake.
Säo Paulo's cuisine is best tried at Brasil a Gosto where chef Ana Luiza Trajano makes traditional creamy crab and coconut dishes. Chef Alex Atala's D.O.M is the address for upscale dining; he uses organic local ingredients in a majestic setting in the most photogenic kitchen. For post-prandial libation, sample the zeitgeist at Baixo Augusta area's new Sonique Bar redolent of New York's meatpacking district and its warehouses.
Säo Paulo has a motto: non dvcor, dvco; I am not led, I lead. So should savvy travelistas. Be seduced, now.
Oscar Freire is reckoned to be the eighth most luxurious street in the world and second in the Americas behind New York's Fifth Avenue. But among the foreign brands that dominate the street, a single Brazilian name leaps out: Havaianas. Created in 1962, the humble flip-flop has joined football and carnival as something of a social equaliser in Brazil and has simultaneously become a global style icon. As a basic staple of economic footwear, Havaianas have long been considered one of the best rubber sandals around - soft, light, yet highly durable and blister-resistant. From a mass-produced utilitarian product with absolutely zero social cachet, to the New York and Paris catwalks and feet of Hollywood A-listers, Havaianas have been catapulted into wardrobes of the most fashion forwardand comfort-conscious consumers across the world. Since 2003, an exclusive pair of Havaianas has been given to all the nominees at the Oscars ceremony. French high heel shoe supremo Christian Louboutin famously said in 2009: "Every woman should own three pairs of shoes - high heels, flats and Havaianas."