Karl Lagerfeld had never been to Cuba until he touched down on the island last Sunday. According to WWD, Chanel wasn't even given permission by the Cuban government to stage its cruise 2016/2017 show in Havana until March. Regardless, Lagerfeld designed everything without setting foot on the controversial and suddenly trendy island. On Tuesday night at the historic Paseo del Prado, Lagerfeld presented a collection that delicately reflected the influence of Cuban silhouettes and motifs — though not without it's cheesier touches, including models smoking cigars, shirts that read "Viva Coco Libre!" and a few berets "irreverently evoking 'Commander' Che Guevara," as the show notes explain.
WWD reports Chanel flew in 700 people for the event, although the celebrity presence didn't feel up to par with past traveling Chanel shows. Last year's cruise presentation in Seoul, South Korea had a similar scheduling conflict with the all-important Met Gala (with took place Monday night in New York City) but Kristin Stewart was there, along with many K-pop stars. On Tuesday, Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Paradis, Gisele Bündchen, Alice Dellal, Caroline de Maigret and Langley Fox Hemingway were the biggest front row names in Havana — oh, and Vin Diesel, in the country filming another "Fast and Furious." Ibeyi, a musical group consisting of French-Cuban sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz and who you may recognize from "Lemonade," was also there. And Fidel Castro's grandson Tony attended (but didn't walk), according to WWD. Otherwise, Chanel's show notes and images do not include Cuban celebrities honored with tickets to the show. Local crowds lined up to watch, but were separated from the Paseo runway by the colorful vintage cars that ferried guests to the venue.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, told WWD that the house has no business in Cuba but flew in 100 private clients from the U.S. and the Americas. (By contrast, Seoul is Asia's third largest economy.) He explained the Cuban show will provide "content for the rest of the year." Based on Chanel's social media images so far, that content will focus on a mysterious, musical Havana high life still associated with prerevolutionary exuberance, with some military elements thrown in.
But back to the collection itself. Lagerfeld put a French spin on Cuban motifs and a Caribbean spin on classic Chanel codes, and the result was joyful, oversaturated and very wearable. The guayabera, a traditional Cuban shirt with flat pleats, was reinterpreted in a variety of ways: soft and sheer or crisp and textured. Everything was infused with the house's signature "boyish femininity," as it called out in its show notes, and almost all the models wore Panama hats designed by Maison Michel. Birds of paradise, cigar and Cadillac car graphic images popped up. The vibrant color palette of bright green, turquoise, coral orange and more elevated the Chanel tweed, printed skirts and sequined statement pieces, although there was still plenty of black, white and military-inspired olive green. For his part, Lagerfeld wore a Hedi Slimane-designed Saint Laurent jacket. (A clue!?)
All in all, it's been a milestone week for Cuban international activity: on Monday, the first American cruise ship docked on the island with 700 tourists. And while these visitors, along with Chanel's team of guests, models and editors, will bring valuable tourism dollars to Cuba before their picturesque vacations are over, the government will reap the benefits, not the Cuban people. Lagerfeld, as usual, is already onto the next inspiration source.
See scenic images from The Coveteur's Jake Rosenberg in the first gallery below, followed by images of the collection.