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Chanel's Cuban Cruise: A Lesson in Elitism

Chanel's Cuban Cruise: A Lesson in Elitism

For it’s latest cruise collection, Chanel released absolutely stunning bright tweed separates, crisp white fedoras and drool-worthy dresses. Despite how beautiful the collection is, it’s delivery is something I can’t quite get behind.  Here’s a discussion on what happens when luxury is paraded in the developing world:

[All images via New York Magazine's and Vogue's pintrest accounts]

Ask anyone in the fashion world and they’ll tell you Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director and head designer at both Chanel and Fendi, is a genius. A once-in-a-generation talent.

And nowhere does Lagerfeld’s creative vision shine brighter than in his showmanship. Yes, of course, the clothes themselves are something to behold-  from the fine craftsmanship to the perfect mix of iconic logos and new elements- but it’s the pageantry with which each new collection is debuted that really makes Lagerfeld stand above the rest.

There, under a sun so hot even the buildings slouch and sweat, on crumbling sidewalks, models strutted...

In the past, Lagerfeld has built icebergs for models to stomp around. He’s made the Great Wall of China a catwalk.  He turned a warehouse into an almost painfully tongue-in-cheek grocery store full of French puns.

But this time, for his latest cruise collection at Chanel, Lagerfeld found a way to up the ante. He packed a cruise ship full of diehard Chanel-lovers and sent them to the exotic bizarro-universe that is Havana, Cuba.

There, under a sun so hot even the buildings slouch and sweat, on crumbling sidewalks usually heaving with life, models clad in interlocking Cs strutted through Central Havana. 

According to reports, the balconies above were crowded with Cubans watching the first-ever fashion show to be held on the island (at least since the revolution in 1959). New York  Magazine even says that “crowds cheered” watching the skirts printed with candy-coloured cars twirl at the runway’s end.

It was, in all, a fabulous night of make-believe and dress-up.

And what better place to play pretend? In our ever more connected world, Cuba remains one of the few places on the globe with an element of mystery.

 There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s difficult for Americans to get there, meaning that most english-speaking media regards it as a forbidden, secret island. Also, the island’s sparse internet availability means social media isn’t awash with it’s images, unlike many other destinations. And, many of those who do make it to Cuba’s dazzling shores stay on resorts, not seeing what the country is really like.

For Lagerfeld, all these elements combine to create a stage more tantalizing than any he could build. His audience already has romantic, exotic notions about Cuba- all he has to do is capitalize on them. 

Combine that with Havana’s red-hot ‘it’-ness right now (Cuba’s slowly opening borders has allowed both Obama and the Rolling Stones to make highly publicized visits this year) and you’ve got a match made in buzz-worthy, re-tweeting heaven.

So, it only makes sense that Lagerfeld saw an opportunity in Havana’s throbbing, candy-coloured downtown to make a fashion show so utterly remarkable that even the most jaded fashionistas would sit up and take notice.

But here’s the thing. The thing no one else seems to be saying, but that I can’t be the only one thinking: Who the hell does Lagerfeld think he is?

See, in Cuba, the homes are typically modest. People don’t spend their evenings sitting in their living rooms the way we do in the West. Rather, they dance and shout and sweat and cohort and live under leafy palms in parks like the one Chanel’s show was in. These aren’t just spaces that happen to be in public, but truly public spaces- the spaces where friends meet, children play and lovers kiss.

So why was it ok for a ship full of foreigners to roll into port and take that away? Who allowed the Cubans to be kicked out of their own living room for Lagerfeld to throw a party?

And why does no one seem to have a problem with it, but rather chooses to focus on how the Cubans seemed happy watching from the outside, crowded on balconies to catch a glimpse of elitism parading itself down their walkways?

Currently, the gap between Cuba’s rich and poor is growing, as shown in this Globe and Mail article. And, days before King Karl and his friends arrived, homeless Cubans were forced to relocate from the marble-floored plaza that would soon be his runway.

Undeniably, a huge part of fashion is about being an inner circle others pine to enter- hence the unattainable price points and small selection of clothing sizes. It makes brands seem cool and makes buyers want to buy, helping the wheels of business keep turning.

Being on Chanel’s cruise ship means you’re part of that inner circle, and that you’ll undoubtably slap down a limitless credit card to purchase the collection. (After all, each look is absolutely stunning!)

Being at home in the West, not on that cruise ship, has you outside that circle, dreaming of the day you’ll be in it, buying your own coveted handbag.

But living at the port where the Chanel cruise ship docks means never making it to the circle. It means living a vibrant life in one of the most alive cities in the world—yet it also means you wait in line every morning for a loaf of bread.

And while the effectiveness of communism is most certainly a discussion for another day, I have to ask: Can we, as fashion-loving Westerners, sashay our vision of what we dream Cuba to be through it’s gritty reality? While playing pretend is half the fun of fashion, at what point does our pretending interfere with someone else’s living?

One of Chanel’s models stomped the marble walkway of El Paseo del Prado, Havana in a sequinned black beret. What at first blush looks so Parisian is, on closer inspection, a glammed-up interpretation of revolutionary Che Guevara’s famous black beret. As it glitters under the streetlight in many photos, I can’t help but wonder: When will we see Cuba for what it really is, which is even better than we could have wished it to be? And when will we let the Cubans have their living room back?

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