by Fashion Director, The Daily Telegraph and Lisa Armstrong, May 04, 2016
You survive six decades un-besmirched by Western brands, then within months, the Pope, Obama, Beyonce, Jay Z and The Rolling Stones turn up. Last night, a day after the first US cruise ship in 60 years docked in Havana Harbour, planet Chanel arrived in Cuba.
|Photo by Freeimages.com/franksag|
Or rather 600 of Chanel’s guests arrived. Members of Chanel’s crack squad have been stationed in the region for months – mainly in Panama, where communications are easier – arranging hotels, sampling restaurants and orchestrating the small matter of a full Chanel catwalk show. Not easy in a country where food and board are still, as one flustered Chanel PR put it, “a bit Soviet”, shops are few and far between and designer boutiques non-existent (the Dior store closed its doors in 1959). Officially the regime frowns on logos. At least Chanel and Cuba share the same initials.
“To live in Havana”, wrote Graham Green in 1958, “was to live in a factory that turned out human beauty on a conveyor belt.” Six decades on, although most of the city is so decayed that only will-power and defiance keep it standing, there is still a jaw-on-table degree of beauty - human, architectural and mechanical.
Nevertheless, the advent of a Chanel resort show in a country where the average annual salary of around £3,000 is approximately the same as one of those (large sized) classic Chanel quilted handbags, has not been without controversy.
At least it has got everyone talking – about an advert Chanel shot in Cuba and its decision to hire Castro’s grandson, Tony Castro, a flamboyantly good looking, luxuriously follicled model to walk in the show. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, neither “fact”, Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s President of Fashion assured me, was actually true.
What is true was that Stella Tennant was in the show, alongside a clutch of local Cuban models. Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Paradis and Gisele Bundchen were at the show – as was Vin Diesel, here shooting The Fast and The Furious part Eight. Another capitalist emblem.
Also true: Chanel had stipulated that “ordinary” Cubans to be able to watch. This was an open air show, staged along the length of the Paseo del Prado, a tree fringed gem, flanked by candy coloured Colonial mansions and the occasional brutalist block of flats. Since it was landscaped in 1772 by a Frenchman, Paseo del Prado naturally manages to incorporate a 170 metre long tiled promenade, which last night effectively became the world’s longest catwalk.
Graham Greene couldn’t have dreamed up anything more surreal: the Chanel clad guests alighted from 170 of Havana’s most lovingly tended vintage open top cars amid black clouds of exhaust fumes while Cuban musicians tuned up and the chauffeurs demonstrated the baroque tunefulness of their horns.
By the time Vin Diesel pitched up, the cacophony was deafening, with more and more locals emerging from the grimy interiors behind those magnificent facades to wave from balconies and rooftops. Then the heavens opened. Had no one clocked that this is the start of the rainy season? Chauffeurs appeared with voluminous black umbrellas – too late for many of the front row hair-dos which had turned to frizz . The Cubans remained in position unfazed. The rain stopped. The catwalk dried. The show began.
The clothes were lovely – nothing too thematic, unless you count the models’ Panama hats, a handful of khaki jackets and several sequined Che Guevara berets, although the latter could have been French berets. Crocheted white maxi dresses, backless metallic brogues, quilted 2.5 bags in slabs of ice-cream shades, feathered and chiffon midi dresses, some worn over white shirts, translucent white voile skirts…
If there was a thread, it was colour and a sense of joyful improvisation that must surely have been inspired by the way many Cubans instinctively dress, albeit on infinitely smaller budgets.
Here an outfit comprising of red and white striped, high-waisted, flared trousers, a silk blouse in pale-moss and a khaki tweed jacket. There a fringed turquoise tweed skirt with a pink tweed jacket. Interspersed were floral printed metallic cardigan-jackets, a sheer, organza coat, embellished with flowers, worn over a lemon sheath dress and a multiplicity of flat shoes and sandals.
It’s easy to understand the scepticism – much of it from outside Cuba. Chanel however, sees this as a gesture of support for the country. Financially, as Bruno Pavlovsky says, “Chanel has nothing to gain from showing here right now.” Unlike previous venues [in the past two years Chanel has shown in Seoul, Dubai, Dallas] Havana won’t be a lucrative market for the company any time soon. But in a 100 years time, Chanel will still be the first luxury brand to have shown here. That’s worth more than any money; it’s historic.
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This article was written by Fashion Director, The Daily Telegraph and Lisa Armstrong from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.