“Beautiful and tragic, elegant and crumbling, hopeful and destitute are the contradictory pairs of adjectives I find myself using to describe Havana", stated Condé Nast Traveler editor in chief Pilar Guzmán after attending Chanel 16/17 Cruise in the Cuban capital, and we really, truly, couldn’t have said it better.
Locals lined the streets as a convoy of 170 colorful vintage cars descended on the Cuban capital on Tuesday, chauffeuring 700 Chanel-clad guests to what was to be the house’s first presentation in Latin America. And as the plumes of black exhaust smoke cleared and the sound of the drivers’ horns faded, to be replaced by classic Cuban salsa, the Paseo del Prado, one of Havana’s main boulevards, became the world’s longest catwalk.
This increasingly exotic choice of destination, for what was once considered a simple in-between season collection, reflects the growing importance of pre-collections in the fashion calendar. Often season-less in style and less directional than a brand’s main collection, the growing appeal of pre-collections, including Cruise, is now demanding greater attention.
The opening up of Cuba has resulted in the country and its rich culture becoming a favorite source of inspiration for many fashion creatives recently, not least Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld – both Proenza Schouler and Stella McCartney have played homage to the Caribbean island in their pre-collections. But Chanel can now rightly claim to be the first luxury brand to have shown there. And it was a fitting coincidence that on the same day the first American cruise ship docked in Havana in almost 40 years, Karl Lagerfeld unveiled a collection that reflected the Cruise collection in its original incarnation – clothes designed for wealthy clientele who travelled to warmer climates during the winter months.
While distinctly Chanel, with the themes and motifs one has come to expect from the brand, the collection was significantly more relaxed and youthful in spirit than in past seasons. Peppered with just a select few Cuban references, such as the Che Guevara beret, guayaberas (the traditional Cuban pleated shirt, army green jackets and of course the Panama hat, the house’s exquisitely crafted creations were styled with simple t-shirts, flats and denim, lending what was an eminently wearable collection, a carefree air that looked quite at home on the streets of Havana.
In recent years Karl Lagerfeld has chosen Singapore, Dubai and Seoul to stage his Cruise presentations, not only reflecting Chanel’s international customer base, but each location being connected in some small way to the Coco Chanel herself. However, the decision to hold the 2017 show in Cuba seems to have been taken purely for inspiration, or perhaps to align with this year’s Latin mood.The event also reflects fashion’s current fascination with choosing far-flung locations to unveil Cruise collections. Louis Vuitton is decamping to Rio de Janiero at the end of this month, the event coinciding with the city’s role as Olympic host in June.
In announcing the show, Chanel stated: “The cultural richness and the opening up of Cuba to the world have turned it into a source of inspiration.” With the rekindled new interest in Cuba, long isolated by a US embargo, and with the unequally powerful endorsement of the house of Chanel, we hope that beauty, elegance, and hope continue to prevail on the island.