Francisco Costa looks to the earth to nourish the body

Following the launch of AROMA, the founder of Costa Brazil joins Document to discuss the line's ethos and his creative practice

In 2016, designer Francisco Costa returned to his native Brazil. Conservation has always been central to his creative practice, but after decades abroad, the country’s beauty reignited Costa’s impulse to merge nourishment of the earth with that of the body. Inspired by the Amazon Rainforest—its untapped wealth of curative ingredients, the local healing rituals that take place inside of it, and its natural wonders—he created Costa Brazil, a sustainable beauty line that combines the raw power of the planet with the designer’s aesthetic sensibilities.

Following the launch of AROMA, a unisex fragrance inspired by a natural resin with a scent that replicates the experience of waking in the rainforest, Costa joins Document to discuss the line’s ethos and his creative practice.

Megan Hullander: How do you feel your experience in design has informed your approach to beauty?

Francisco Costa: I think all of my experience—from working at Calvin Klein to growing up in my small but beautiful hometown of Minas Gerais to arriving in New York City, where I cleaned houses and walked dogs in between my studies to make ends meet—has informed my approach to beauty. That’s the great thing about this industry, or at least how I see it; for me, it’s about inclusivity, knowledge, empathy, the ability to stay grounded but also, of course, to see the beauty in simple, clean things.

Megan: Is there any element of sentimentality or nostalgia in your approach to Costa Brazil, or is it entirely built on the new sense of vitality you reference in your visit to the Amazon?

Francisco: It’s a bit of both. I was drawn home to Brazil because of nostalgia but also because I was looking for the inspiration that comes with home and thinking about the past and those moments of reflection. I was certainly re-awakened by my time spent in the Amazon with the Yawanawas, who introduced me to breu, the anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient that runs through almost all of Costa Brazil. It’s what also makes everything smell like the forest itself.

Megan: Do you find it difficult to incorporate a conservation-centric approach? Does it require sacrifice? How do you use it as a mode of creativity?

Francisco: Conservation has been at the center of everything I do. Even at Calvin Klein, I was creating sustainable collections that featured upcycled yarn from mom and pop shops in Scotland. Back then, we weren’t even using the word sustainable, but I was still doing it because it’s more joyful that way, exciting, and yes, some may say challenging. Mostly, I did it and still do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Megan: What is the selection process like when you’re working with chemists and botanists to develop the products?

Francisco: I have been incredibly lucky and honored to have found a sounding board in Conservation International, a nonprofit that exists to spotlight and support the rights of the rainforest. They have helped guide us in everything from procurement, production, and packaging, reminding us every step of the way about animal, environmental, and human welfare. I’m also incredibly fortunate to call the biotech company Amyris home; we have the best scientists in the world on our staff.

Megan: In what ways do you feel Costa Brazil’s products translate your experiences in self-calming and awakening when visiting?

Francisco: The foundation of our products is our ingredients, many of which feature those self-calming qualities. For example, AROMA, our new unisex scent, features notes that evoke phytoncides, which are chemicals emitted from trees that have proven to lower stress levels and lift moods. People have called it ‘Brazil in a bottle,’ which is exactly what I was going for. Brazil is a way of life, and a beautiful one at that. I recommend everyone to pay a visit. Until then, there’s Costa Brazil!