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Haute Couture by Chanel on Havana’s Paseo del Prado

Haute Couture by Chanel on Havana’s Paseo del Prado

By Victoria Alcalá

 For a few weeks now an unusual buzz of activity has been sweeping over Havana’s popular Paseo del Prado. The tree-shaded promenade began to be built in 1772 , forming the boundary between La Habana Vieja and Centro Habana. “Ah…they’re talking about some fashion thing.” Passersby comment, oblivious to the ins and outs of haute couture. “It’s Chanel!” The bronze lions that have been the guardians of the place since 1928 seem to be more in the know. These sculptures have watched the years flow by, from the days when the area was the capital’s busy business center and the adjacent streets housed exclusive boutiques, perfume shops and the ateliers of famous dressmakers.

We have known about it since last October, and by now everything is receiving the finishing touches and the first Latin American fashion show presented by the celebrated French fashion house is about to become reality. On the third of May, the House of Chanel is going to present its prêt-à-porter line for its Cruise 2016-2017 Collection. And now Havana will share the privilege of hosting such a stellar event in the world of high fashion with cities such as Miami, Venice, Singapore, Dubai and Seoul.

In the words of a press communiqué from Chanel, “The cultural richness and the opening up of Cuba to the world make the country a source of inspiration for Karl Lagerfeld and for Chanel.” Many of us are anxious to see how Cuban references are going to be interpreted à la Chanel. Will there be an explosion of color? Will we be seeing the linen, cotton, lace, tiny pleats and crochet knits that have formed the long tradition of dressing Cuban-style? In short, how is our island flair going to coexist with French sophistication? And how is that radiant modernity going to look in the midst of the rather tarnished eclecticism of the surroundings?

Adding more spice to the mixture, rumors are floating around that the “Kaiser” Karl Lagerfeld will be announcing his retirement after the Havana show, after over thirty years of being the creative director of the company. Maybe the writer Alejo Carpentier was right when he complained in his youth that only “beginner” or “fading” celebrities came to Cuba. A possible successor is even being mentioned: Hedi Slimane who has left Yves Saint Laurent. But these are only rumors, fueled by a close friend of the German designer and denied by the Chanel spokesperson who considers them to be “unfounded.”

Meanwhile, the work continues in the Prado, setting up the runway, installing lights, preparing guest seating, all hidden by hoardings that won’t come down until just before show time. Work is also going on at the Martí Theater, general headquarters for the troupe, and the managers and owners of hotels and restaurants in the vicinity are rubbing their hands with glee: Word has it that all the rooms in the Saratoga, Parque Central and Telégrafo hotels are sold out.

It has also been announced, perhaps making the most of the enthusiasm generated by Chanel, that the international “Cuba is Fashion” Fair will be held in Havana from May 31 to June 4, hoping to “take up its position among the most important players in the sector” and as “the most representative for Latin American and Caribbean countries.” The event organizers are announcing a series of fashion shows by foreign and Cuban stylists with special emphasis on the exquisite national tradition that has often appeared to be in danger from crumbling before the avalanche of poorly made products in the worst of taste.

But for now, curious Havana residents are getting ready for yet another exceptional event. Fashionistas are dreaming about Chanel opening up a branch in Havana so that its shop windows will provide an endless source of inspiration just as the El Encanto store used to do for their predecessors. Celebrity groupies are getting excited too: not just about the 2016-2017 Cruise Show novelties, but about the tsunami of jet-set notables that tends to accompany the Kaiser at his openings. Will George Clooney be coming…?!



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