Cuba fashionable again with Chanel in Havana

Posted: 07-Jun-16 11:18

With President Barack Obama making great strides towards opening up Cuba to foreign enterprise, now is seen as the perfect time for many big-name brands to make their presence known in the country. However, with Chanel recently landing in Havana to host their first ever Latin American show, it seems many overseas businesses still have a lot to learn about Cuban culture.

Cuba fashionable again with Chanel in Havana

While he may not have succeeded in closing Guantanamo Bay, one thing President Barack Obama looks likely to leave office having achieved is significantly opening up Cuba to brands and marketers.

This was evident in the arrival of Chanel for their first ever Latin American show earlier this month, with their Cruise 2017 collection arriving by boat in Havana complete with a celebrity entourage.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld said he had looked to the country for inspiration. Indeed he seemed to find it and was able to stamp it across a flamboyant fashion collection that included classic Cuban icons and motifs in a fun-loving and light-hearted way. From colourful blouses with vintage car patterns on it to vibrant tropical prints and more demure attire in light, frilly fabrics with beautiful black and white monochrome pieces – it all summarised Cuban fashion and culture throughout history with a contemporary accent.

Oozing glamour through every pore, as was to be expected, and with plenty of references to 50s and 60s styles it was all perfectly accompanied by the soulful voices of French-Cuban female duet, Ibeyi, as well as the sounds of contemporary Cuban jazz played live on a piano.

Though a fashion show complete with models wearing berets and military fatigues may not be seen as ground-breaking throughout the rest of the world, it indeed was a remarkable step for Chanel that forever changed how other brands might view Cuba in the future. Now the island no longer stands as the forbidden, neglected fruit but as a juicy fruit that has started its ripening appeal in the eyes of many investors.

While most would say the show was a resounding success and that Chanel got it right, down to perfection - it even managed to introduce its famous tweed and make it work with light Cuba-weather style garments – some say it failed in including a wider variety of Cuban elements.

Despite the many references to Cuban culture in Chanel’s Cruise 2017 fashion line, there are critics who say that it missed the mark in accurately representing a country with many facets beyond the standard holiday brochure cliches. Whist the vast majority of the Cuban people loved it, there were those who said that many elements of contemporary Cuban culture were overlooked, that the collection concentrated mostly on aspects of the country’s past instead of also exploring other Cuban positives such as its constantly evolving arts scene, one that has historically remained free of overseas influence due to the island’s decades of isolation as a result of the U.S. imposed trade embargo.

A learning experience

Indeed, despite Chanel’s intention to strike a chord with the Cuban people, parading catwalk stars in these stylised berets and straw hats was seen by some as exploring just one aspect of the country’s past, without including the island’s edgier contemporary arts scene or exploring other aspects of Cuban daily life and society.

But then again the fact remains that most Cubans loved the show and welcome events like Chanel’s adding colour and glamour to their island. You could also argue from a stylist’s point of view, that the fact that all of the collection pieces were influenced by Cuban cuts, colours, lines and prints is what really matters down the line, and all of the garments showcased in the catwalk ultimately had a Cuban soul, contemporary or not, the inspiration was definitely Cuban.

And in any case, Cuba’s vintage elements and appeal are a strong part of its contemporary reality, or, are the classic cars a thing of the past? No, you’ll still find them roaming around pretty much everywhere in Cuba. If Karl chose to concentrate mainly on the island’s vintage appeal, as a designer and artist he should be free to do so, it was his line and his way of experimenting with Cuban fashion in the 21st century. He should not be critiqued for his freedom to express Cuba as he feels it. No one can deny that the end result was beautiful indeed, and that is the point of fashion.

While the show will of course have been seen as a successful venture – both for Chanel and other overseas brands intending to make their presence felt on the island in future – it did raise the point that businesses could benefit from gauging the opinion of the Cuban public before entering the country. Indeed, it is only through their ongoing relationship with Cuba that these companies will accurately be able to capture the spirit of a country that has long since fascinated the outside world. With that I fully agree, but I would also never say that Chanel got it wrong.

As first steps goes, it will echo down history as a resounding, ground-breaking stomp. And most Cubans are thankful for it, for making Cuba fashionable again and for turning people’s heads to its inherent beauty, thank you Chanel!


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