“I looked up to Manu as a young woman and when I worked for her we would have lunch and really talk. I would go home and say to my mum, ‘She asked my opinion!’ and that was big,” says tech entrepreneur and investor Daniela Cecilio Neves of her Double Act partner, Brazilian fashion designer Emannuelle Junqueira, who is known for her exquisite couture bridal and eveningwear. “I still have a lovely sequin and lace sheer top that you designed,” says Neves, smiling at Junqueira over coffee and cheese bread (pão de queijo) in Neves’ South Kensington home. 

The Esthe lace and embroidery Manu 2 dress, £3,900, and tulle hotpants, £120
The Esthe lace and embroidery Manu 2 dress, £3,900, and tulle hotpants, £120 © Sascha von Bismarck

Both born and raised in São Paulo, the two women (who are four years apart in age) bonded over a shared love of minimalism, layering and a footloose feminine style that flew in the face of the bodycon sexiness the city is known for. They met in the early 2000s, when Neves, then in her 20s, was segueing her way out of a marketing role at a major Brazilian construction company. “It was a big job for my age, but I was not fulfilled and I always loved fashion,” says Neves, who tested the waters designing a collection of one-off pieces called Meu Armario (My Wardrobe). It sold out, but not knowing how to take it to the next level she went to Junqueira. They hit it off. “Daniela is so stylish and she brought a lot of life and energy to the brand,” says the self-effacing Junqueira, who offered her a job. 

The Esthe tulle top, £350
The Esthe tulle top, £350 © Liberto Fillo

Their friendship remained through marriage and children (both have two) and the hurdles of their professional careers, with Neves moving to London in 2005. She met her future husband, José Neves (who in 2007 launched Farfetch, the online fashion platform sold in a lifeline deal to South Korean ecommerce giant Coupang late last year) and she was part of Farfetch’s founding team before embarking on her own tech ventures, ASAP54 and Fashion Concierge (both concerns were bought by the Farfetch Group). But an itch that she could not quite scratch had Neves go back to the drawing board with an idea for a brand. “I wanted pieces that you can layer up and down, that go from day to evening and from the beach to the city, from the school run to meetings to a dinner – effortless, easy,” says Neves, who drew up the concept and presentation in early 2023. When Neves was back in São Paulo visiting Junqueira’s townhouse atelier to choose a dress to wear to her sister’s wedding, she revealed her grand ambitions. Junqueira offered to make the samples, which quickly turned into a full-fledged co-design partnership. The women have now united behind their new brand, The Esthe

The Esthe Emannuelle dress, £3,600
The Esthe Emannuelle dress, £3,600

The living room in Neves’ South Kensington stucco house, with soaring ceilings, parquet floors, abstract artworks and curvilinear Mario Bellini sofas, serves as an ideal improvised showroom. The clothes, meanwhile, made with ethereal linens, Brazilian organic fabrics and UK-made underpinnings, are cool. There’s a dash of Vionnet via Calvin Klein and John Galliano in the many iterations of slip dresses and the languid air of Daisy Fellowes in the silhouettes. Gentle colourways play the scale from ivory white to clay, black and lipstick red. But these seemingly simple pieces are a study in complexity with bias and godet cuts, intricate draping, hand-embroidery, fil-coupé raw silk and French lace. The Manu 2 dress features three types of lace and embroidery. “I call it petits pois,” says Junqueira of the tiny silk-covered spheres that wrap the torso. 

The Esthe organza Lilly 2 dress, £3,300
The Esthe organza Lilly 2 dress, £3,300 © Liberto Fillo

It is challenging (crazy, some might say) launching a fashion label in an era flooded with brands, sustainability issues and a growing crunch on spending, but Neves and Junqueira have thought hard about the purpose of this self-funded venture. which is about versatility. “Adding or removing layers as you go – it’s who I am,” says the pragmatic Neves. 

Like many female fashion designers, both learn from their own lived experience. Neves, who wears clothes by The Row and Wardrobe NYC, felt she was missing a more feminine expression, while Junqueira, a fan of Dries Van Noten, was seeking a style that was easy but not trendy. “Designing wedding dresses really puts me in touch with how women want to look and feel in themselves,” says Junqueira, who made Neves’ own wedding gown in 2011. “All the fabrics we have chosen are gentle on the skin, and the fit is flattering on so many body shapes.” 

Junqueira (left) and Neves at Neves’ London home
Junqueira (left) and Neves at Neves’ London home © Liberto Fillo

Back in November, the duo invited friends and family to pre-order from the collection and every piece sold, including the final layer of bold-shouldered tailored jackets offered in differing lengths. “We took orders from ultra-fashionistas, from mums, from women aged 20 and 60,” says Neves. “It’s not so recognisable and the pieces can truly become the wearer’s,” adds Junqueira. The proof of concept this spring will be in the wearing and, crucially, in peer-to-peer recommendation. 

Meanwhile, before Junqueira returns to São Paulo, she and Neves pack up the orders. As they pad around the parquet in matching Margiela Tabi shoes, multiple earrings and ear cuffs (Ana Khouri and Alexander McQueen), and floaty maxi skirts, one gets the message about how they envisage women wearing these hardworking but liberating clothes.

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