One of the most brilliant minds in fashion is, without a doubt, Karl Lagerfeld—known by many as the Kaiser of fashion. Catapulted into fame in the seventies, in great part thanks to his deep knowledge of the history of fashion, and after having designed for some of the most important fashion houses in the world, the creative director at Chanel is known for his crazy talent, always full of surprises: this time in the form of a runway show at the historic Avenida El Prado, in Habana, Cuba, for the presentation of his cruise collection 2016/17 for Chanel.
Like almost anything created by Lagerfeld, the show was filled with a number of incongruences that, rather than injuring the final result, helped bring the Kaiser’s ingenious creativity to the foreground. In the middle of one of the most important avenues in downtown Habana, surrounded by the historic, though somewhat corroded, architecture of the city, Lagerfeld showed a majestic, luxurious collection.
Far from representing the present situation of the island, however, the collection reveals a warm nostalgia for the times before the revolution, showcasing nothing less than a Cuba imagined by Lagerfeld’s creative genius. This version of Cuba, it is worth mentioning, rescues a series of garments that have managed to stick to the cultural imaginary of the Caribbean—at least as viewed through a European and North American perspectives—focusing on the guayaberas, the “Panama” hats, and the American cars from the fifties… Without even mentioning the dance parade that closed the show, with a suite of models worthy of Chanel but not so much so of the tropical dance lessons clearly absent in their youth.
But beyond the stereotypes, the mélange of vaporous fabrics with the traditional Chanel tweed showed the perfect combination of masculinity and femininity that made Mademoiselle Coco famous and that only Lagerfeld has known to adapt to our times. With an ambiance created by a curious mix of classical music with tones of salsa, together with the beautiful voices of the Franco-Cuban sisters Lisa-Kaindé Díaz and Naomi Díaz (of the group Ibeyi), the show reveals exactly what it is meant to be: a romantic vision of Cuba, born in Lagerfeld’s imagination, combining elements that, in his mind at least, represent Cuba within the language of French elegance in which he is fluent. And the result is nothing other than a faithful example of contemporary fashion: the construction of the present in the design process, through a simultaneous extension to the past and the future.
Cuba, however, might see another result. If Chanel brought 700 people to Cuba, their stay at Habana might have brought incomes never before seen—especially as, on the same day of the show, the first cruise from North America docked in the country’s ports. And all these hundreds of people have done nothing more than bringing the world’s attention to the—idealized—beauty of Cuba: a type of beauty that, almost certainly, a great percentage of the European and North American population have been able to see in the avalanche of images from Cuba that took over social networks thanks to the Chanel show. So if Cuba was not one of the most coveted travel destinations before this week, it would not be surprising if it had become one by now, promoted by the aspirational mechanics of the fashion world. Although it remains to be seen whether those increased incomes from tourism do benefit the island’s population, and not just the ruling class…
The truth is that, in one way or another, Karl Lagerfeld managed to bring Cuba to the center of the world—if only for a week—and the legacy of its “15 minutes of fame” could extend for at least a year. It is likely that the fashion world doesn’t get over Cuba in a while, that Habana becomes the new Tulum of fashionistas, and that the island’s reunion with Capitalism—even if it is only a brief visit—brings higher incomes and benefits to its inhabitants.