In Fall of 2016, writer Chavie Lieber came to Cuba with an open mind and curious heart. As a writer for the Fashion site Racked (same web family as Vox, Curbed, & Eater among others), she had her eye on Cuba and its emerging fashion scene. I was lucky enough to catch the early phonecall during her scout mission upon organizing her trip. It’s one of my favorite pastimes here in Cuba, hunting subcultures.
And so began our search together — sharing lists, chasing people down, booking appointments. What seemed like a simple basic request turned out to be quite the challenge. Fashion in Cuba? Is there even a fashion scene? Turns out there’s a small army rising up. Some of the fashionistas of Cuba are not easily findable on Instagram, nor do they necessarily respond to Facebook emails, much less their nauta.cu accounts. The majority do not even have a proper running website, and cuban cell phones do not have voicemail boxes which means calling one is a repetitive task requiring heaps of patience. The search alone set the stage for how isolated some of these designers exist within the global fashion market.
Finally, an itinerary was set, and Chavie flew into Cuba and tirelessly dove into the scene in just a few days, running from home to home, studio to showroom, engaging in creative conversations with residents. Topics ranged from developing their craft, to black market goods, to the new economy.
Other industry insights focused on the future. ”There’s an overwhelming air of optimism in Cuba because people are seeing more change in three years than anything that’s taken place over the last 20 years,” says Matusky. “The future is bright.” As for the Clandestina duo, they are feeling bullish. “I don’t think the state wants all this change, but they don’t have a choice because it’s happening,” says del Río, who by nature is a positive girl with a sharp sense of humor. “A year ago, it was a completely different country. We can only hope that more jobs open and that the people can make money out of their ideas. There are so many talented people here,” she tells Chavie. In general, all the designers expressed their love of Cuba, and the need for access to proper tools and goods to grow their business.
In terms of the Chanel show, the comments were also a swirl of thoughts. As expected, the private event, complete with 3 days of festivities culminating into the big show on the Prado, made the locals feel, um, well, discarded. ”While Chanel has always been an icon and an inspiration for me,” says Freixas, “it seemed like they were interested in Havana on a social level, by only looking at people who could possibly be clients, like famous musicians. But there are more important things in the world than money. Chanel’s show could have been an opportunity to involve the Cuban fashion community and be a session to meet and exchange ideas.”
“I didn’t care about not getting a seat,” adds Gil, who acts as a Fashion Director for Fábrica de Arte Cubano. “I cared that Chanel completely ignored Cuba’s fashion community.” Designer Jacqueline Fumero, however, believes it was “promotion for the island — you start as a backdrop today, but tomorrow, more people know you”. Miguel Leyva, Cuba’s first fashion blogger, believes Chanel actually traveling to the country was a big deal. “To me, this is a step forward. I just want us to be a part of the conversation.”
The article turned out to be a thorough look at the history of Fashion in Cuba, while sharing contemporary history of the ongoing reforms happening on the island today. As Chavie closes the piece, she reflects a sentiment felt by all Cubans: “And those talented people will keep on pushing. Hustling, as they say, is the Cuban way”.
To read the whole piece, visit: Cuba, In Clothes.
Photography: Hannah Berkely Cohen. Thanks to Patricia Morgovsky for all her contributions too. Couldn’t have done it without you ladies.