Chanel’s cruise collections have become synonymous with fantastical locations, exquisite clothing, and apparently, controversy. This year’s host country came as a surprise to us all: The communist island of Cuba.

Chanel Cruise 2017 | Quartz

Creative Director and fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, told Reuters that he was inspired by the “cultural richness and opening up of Cuba” (Marsh, 2016). Indeed it was a wonderful reinvention of Cuban classics; from silhouette, tailoring details, and accessories. El Paseo Del Prado of old Havana also served as the perfect backdrop for such a vividly colourful collection, with its beautiful colonial buildings in pastel, framed by tropical foliage. The collection harkened to the spirit of pre-revolution Cuba.

Chanel Cruise 2017 | Dazed Digital

It was exactly this that many felt unsettled by. Present day Cuba is still under a communist regime where the state regulates all media, can deny passport, and has an average annual salary of $4300 USD. If the luxury French powerhouse could stock there, not many could afford its clothing – revealing the evident imbalance of wealth and lifestyle. Tourists will find Cuba much safer than capitalist Latin America, with regards to crime, drugs, and gang related violence. However, Cuba “is not a democracy, and being a dissident here can land you in jail” (Steves, 2016).

Propaganda Billboard, Havana | Huffington Post

On the other hand, the island state is on its way to reform. In 2010, Fidel Castro’s comment on the economic crisis of Cuba launched media frenzy: “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore” (E. Sweig, Rockefeller, 2013). Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother has embraced the need for change as the current president. New cumulative measures, such as a new migration law, formalization of a progressive tax code, and shrinking of state payrolls to allow small businesses to thrive (E. Sweig, Rockefeller, 2013) are the most telling signs of progression.

Revolution Square, Havana | Huffington Post

With this context, staging a glamorous fashion show in a struggling country poses an awkward juxtaposition. But Karl Lagerfeld is no newcomer to controversy. The Chanel Spring 2015 finale march raised brows for its co-opting of the feminist movement for the sake of being on-trend. Although his intentions were good, the show’s ending came across “cynical, money-grabbing, [and] slightly empty” (Shepherd, 2014). Not much of a departure of impression for this year’s show to some. Local Cuban designer Indania Del Rio said to the Sun Daily; “I think the catwalk is more for Chanel than Cuba”, in relation to how local residents were restricted to enter unless they lived in the adjacent apartments. Others rejoiced at the event, one local told Reuters, “Just because I can’t afford it doesn’t mean I want to deny others that luxury” (Marsh, 2016).c5

Chanel Traffic Control | Refinery 29 | Photographed by Jennifer Shyue

Regardless of motives and intentions, Lagerfeld knows how to foresee trends in both fashion and media, to push his brands into the social consciousness. Following the tailcoat of December 2014’s “Cuban Thaw” (Hoyer, 2016) whereby the United States and Cuba agreed to begin restoring diplomatic relations, was smart timing on Lagerfeld’s part. Some say there’s no good or bad press; so perhaps this is the kind of press Cuba needs in order to grow into modern society. As Lagerfeld said in response to the feminist rally controversy;

“I thought it was something right for the moment – I couldn’t care less if people are for or against. It’s my idea.” Karl Lagerfeld, (Klein, 2014)

 

Written by Sonia Wan

Edited by Christina Wright

 

References

Reuters (2016) Chanel Brings Glamour Back to Cuba [Online] Available at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-chanel-idUSKCN0XU1LT [Accessed 16/05/16]

Huffington post (2016) Communism in Cuba [Online] Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-steves/communism-in-cuba_b_9163806.html [Accessed 16/05/16]

Council of Foreign Relations (2016) Cuba after Colonialism [Online] Available at http://www.cfr.org/cuba/cuba-after-communism/p30991[Accessed16/05/16]

The Sun Daily (2016) Chanel Fashion Comes to Cuba [Online] Available at http://www.thesundaily.my/news/1786950 [Accessed16/05/16]

Jezebel (2016) Chanel Show Ends with Co-Opted Faux Feminism [Online] Available at http://jezebel.com/karl-lagerfelds-chanel-show-ends-with-co-opted-faux-fem-1640722530 [Accessed16/05/16]

Quartz (2016) Chanel’s Havana Runway Show Practically Longed for Glamorous Pre Revolutionary Cuba [Online] Available at http://qz.com/676128/chanels-havana-runway-show-practically-longed-for-a-glamorous-pre-revolutionary-cuba/ [Accessed16/05/16]

News AU (2016) Chanel Stages Cruise Fashion Collection in Cuban Capital [Online] Available at http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/chanel-stage-cruise-fashion-collection-in-cuban-capital-havana-the-first-international-show-since-the-1959-communist-revolution/news-story/a62eef4789f26f78266fb2d38bc4b2a5 [Accessed16/05/16]

Fashionista (2016) Karl Lagerfeld Couldn’t Care Less if you didn’t like his Feminist Rally [Online] Available athttp://fashionista.com/2014/10/chanel-no-5-launch-dinner [Accessed16/05/16]

The Independent (2016) Karl Lagerfeld’s Response to Chanel Feminist Protest Criticism [Online] Available at http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/karl-lagerfeld-s-response-to-chanel-s-feminist-protest-criticism-9799805.html [Accessed16/05/16]