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When in 2003, at the Casa de la Obra P?a in Old Havana, the Arte y Moda fashion show took place, one of the most stunning designs was Peacock Woman, a creation by Ismael de la Caridad based on one of Zayda del R?o?s paintings. Still today, this spectacular gown by the renowned Cuban fashion designer is a referent when it comes to translating contemporary Cuban visual art into the codes of the catwalk.
?Collaborating with artists was not a new experience for me,? says Ismael. ?In 1986 I had used painter and ceramist Alfredo Sosabravo?s works for the design of textiles for the Telarte project; those fabrics based on Cuban paintings that were sold at reasonable prices and later made into dresses, blouses, shirts, curtains, pillow cases turned the streets and homes of Havana into improvised galleries. With Zayda I began an ongoing creative exchange in 1999. I?m fascinated by her oneiric and surreal world, and above all, her authenticity. We are very much alike: we are both committed to the interrelation of the arts and we seek to express the Cuban character, each according to the requirements of our line of work. I have also used Ileana Mulet?s work, which is so suggestive and so habanera.?
In the distinguished atmosphere of his Vedado apartment, where beauty is worshipped, expressed in a Tiffany-style lamp or a necklace by Ren? Lalique or an 18th-century Havana tablecloth or a luxuriant fern, Ismael de la Caridad, an elegant, unassuming, warm and friendly man, recalls his beginnings in the world of fashion.
?I began in 1978 when I was fourteen as a model for the Light Industry, Contex S.A. and La Maison. At that moment, I was captured by the world of fashion and, learning from the greats, started making my way into design, where I have done just about everything: wardrobes for theatre, television and musical shows, casual and formal dresses, wedding gowns, fancy clothes. I believe there are clothes for everyone. Of course, each person has his or her own preference, and I favour designs that emphasize and give value to handicraft: knitting, crochet, embroidery, lace trimmings, tucks, which all form part of Cuban tradition and may be lost if we do not pay attention to them and encourage them.?
This is why he is so appreciative of the effort carried out by the Casa de la Obra P?a, of the City Historian?s Office, in keeping alive these lovely and ancient handicrafts, and in organizing together with the Cuban Association of Craftsmen and the Cultural Property Fund, the Arte y Moda (Art and Fashion) event, one of the most important in the country in its field. Painters, designers, couturiers, and silversmiths meet every November in a collaborative effort to create clothes that reflect, technically and conceptually, the richness and diversity of Cuban painting, and the values of applied arts in the Island.
A significant number of fashion shows are credited to his name in Cuba and abroad (M?xico, practically his second home), Dominican Republic, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Portugal?); he was awarded First Prize in the 1996 International Craft Fair with his Yagruma collection, and the Prize of the Theatre Critics Association of Mexico in 2004 for his designs for the theatre in that nation; celebrities who have set standards in terms of Havana?s glamour and elegance, including Rosita Forn?s, have chosen him as their personal designer. Yet, Ismael de la Caridad does not take things for granted.
?I work every day as if it were my last. I like to cut out myself the dresses I design and, in special cases, sew and embroider them. Choose materials and threads. Provide the music for the fashion shows, compose the choreography for the models, dress their hair, apply their makeup, make accessories for them. I like challenges. If for Peacock Woman I managed to obtain and sew in Mexico 1,800 peacock feathers, I am now very excited about a tribute to Mexican painter Frida Kahlo on the centenary of her death. Because it is a Cuban tribute, I am going to use the Cuban robe—which I have been using for some few years now—that dressing gown or peignoir that the lady of the house would give away to her slaves and they would turn them into party dresses and whose train only the beautiful mulatto women could gracefully carry, and which later was used in the theatre by rumba dancers to show off their dexterity. Although the traditional Cuban robe is white, which is one of my favourite colours, this one will be black with typical Mexican embroidery and accessories based on semiprecious volcanic rocks from the land of Frida and Diego. I also dream about creating a dress museum with my collections of clothes and accessories as well as those belonging to Cuban celebrities, such as Rita Montaner, Benny Mor?, Celia Cruz, Dulce Mar?a Loynaz, Carilda Oliver Labra or Rosita Forn?s. I think I would need, like Mexican singer Armando Manzanero, weeks that have more than seven days.?
We parted leaving Ismael in his enchanted world, surrounded by the beauty that he enjoys and creates, making his dreams come true thanks to his absolute dedication to his work.