Eau de Havana: Chanel meets Castro

lagerfeld
Lagerfeld (left) in Havana

And then there’s Karl Lagerfeld.

In recent weeks and months, we’ve been toting up some of the American pop-culture figures who’ve been jetting down to Havana since the so-called thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations made that destination even cooler (at least in the minds of some of our more ethically challenged celebrities) than it was before. This week we’ve looked at the high-profile filming in the Cuban capital of the latest Fast and Furious masterpiece and the recent release of the movie Papa Hemingway in Cuba, shot almost entirely on the prison island.

Here’s another item for our roster. “To unveil his Cruise 2017 collection for Chanel,” reported Harpers Bazaar the other day, Lagerfeld, the pompous, preposterous 82-year-old German designer who is head designer and creative director of Chanel, “flew the fashion pack out to Cuba, staging the first ever fashion show to be held in the country since the 1959 communist revolution.”

chanel-cuba-10The open-air show took place on the Paseo del Prado, “a street landscaped by a Frenchman and lined with colonnades on either side, painted in faded pastels.” Lagerfeld’s guests, 600 in all, including such celebrities as Tilda Swinton and Gisele Bundchen, “were chauffeured in a rainbow-coloured convoy of 170 old cars to a front row of park benches underneath trees that lined the centre of the street.” Lagerfeld’s glitzy garb, a “multicoloured sequin tuxedo,” made it clear he was “here to have fun.” And fun it was, with “dancing models and a delightfully eclectic collection that mixed up colour and print, masculine and feminine, Parisian chic and Cuban flair.”

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The beret worn by this model was inspired by Che Guevara’s habitual headwear

The Harper’s Bazaar contributor we’re quoting here is Avril Muir, who, scribbling in the storied style rag, described Lagerfeld’s big show as “a gloriously exuberant spectacle that showed the global reach of this supremely powerful brand.” Part of what made it so “glorious exuberant,” Muir emphasized, was that it was set in Cuba’s “beautiful capital city,” which she described as “a beguiling mix of ruined colonial houses, rusting Cadillacs and seafront boulevards which turn into a kind of catwalk for locals every night.” How supremely romantic! Cuba, Muir stated, is “a country where time has largely stood still since the late 1950s.” True enough; but the way she put it made it sound magical. Cuba, where time has stood still – just like in Shangri-La!

Muir didn’t realize it, of course, but what she was recounting here was an act of slumming on a truly monumental scale. Through the sheer wizardry of the fashion biz, one heartbreaking manifestation after another of abject poverty and oppression was transformed into a token of the utmost in chic.

Ruined houses? Dazzling! Rusting Cadillacs? Bewitching! Penniless serfs dragging themselves along the waterfront every night because they can’t afford to do anything else? Hey, it’s not a sad slog, folks – it’s a catwalk!

More tomorrow.

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