Although it’s a far cry from the fantasy catwalk shows of Paris, Rome or New York and their ready-to-wear industries, Havana also hosts its very own Fashion Week; which sees the country’s top artisans present their best designs for the Cuban public.
The event which is met with surprise, and even skepticism by some, recently celebrated its second edition (October 12-16) in true style, in none other than the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana.
Then comes the apprehension, because not too many years ago the word “fashion” could almost be considered blasphemy, representing he height of frivolity.
However, Cubans have always felt the need to dress well, despite scarcities which have necessarily meant putting fashion to one side, to address bigger and more pressing problems.
Now, despite the continuing global economic crisis, and undeniable impact of the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade on the island, fashion is once again beginning to take its rightful place.
A HISTORY OF FASHION
Fashion should not be reviled. Wearing clothes started out as a basic human need, principally to protect ourselves from the elements. Over time, clothes began to acquire an aesthetic character, becoming another adornment used by human beings.
During the Stone Age, humans wore animal skins, but archeologists discovered that they also used the teeth and claws to make necklaces.
Jumping forward in time, the Egyptians produced elaborate accessories, working primarily with linen, and had a strong liking for perfume.
Later, people began to use silks from India or China as the concept of fashion began to develop. This idea, as we understand it today, is believed to have emerged in the Renaissance period, which saw new styles gradually introduced, and dressmaking and tailoring techniques refined.
By the 18th century, fashion referred to clothing worn by the aristocracy, with garments greatly influenced by trends emerging from Paris. However, during the second half of this period, the Industrial Revolution in England began, making the production of clothes - and thus “fashion” - a mass commodity, no longer limited to the aristocracy.
During the following century, the figure of the trend-setting fashion designer, runway model, and perhaps most importantly, sewing machine, emerged.
The 20th century saw the founding of the major fashion houses, with their renowned designers, including Coco Chanel; Cristóbal Balenciaga; Christian Dior; Manuel Pertegaz; Yves Saint Laurent; Giorgio Armani; Paco Rabanne; Gianni Versace; Karl Lagerfeld; Calvin Klein…
These are some of the top names on the catwalks and during Fashion Weeks, with their couture collections and more affordable ready-to-wear lines becoming instant trends.
FASHION WEEK IN CUBA
However, fashion is more than just trends, it’s also taste, which is sometimes imposed, that can be personal or reflect the culture of a country.
Fashion is different everywhere, and influenced by key aspects such as geography, climate and social context, elements Cuban artisans are attempting incorporate in this second Fashion Week.
Forty catwalk shows took place under the maxim: Crafts and Identity; including four dedicated to swimwear, children’s clothing, wedding dresses, and hairdressing; as well as another special feature: the “Guayza Project” with jewelers Pauyet, accompanied by famous visual artist Nelson Domínguez - all demonstrating various techniques and a wide variety of styles.
Speaking to Granma International, María Salomé Morales, artisan and member of the Fashion Week organizing committee, noted that the event is an important moment “to publicize what Cuban artisans and designers are doing, to show what is being done in all the provinces.”
We want to show the public that beautiful, appropriate and modern garments can be made with nationally produced fabrics, which is why our shows aren’t couture, but rather feature clothes that can be worn at different times during the day, to work, to school, a meeting, and to go out in the evening, explained the artisan.
What has your participation in Cuba’s fashion week involved?
In 2015, I presented the collection Sueño, consisting of satin nightwear. In fact it was quite controversial, but I’ve marketed it well and now I’m here with party dresses.
In regards to the characteristics and styles of current Cuban design, María Salomé noted, “We are offering clothes with easy designs to wear in our climate and that can be purchased by the population. We follow international trends, we can’t separate ourselves from them, we insert ourselves but with our own traits.”
Meanwhile designer Mario Freixas believes that Cuba’s Fashion Week, allows artisans and designers to “dream of reviving the industry so that the population finds pieces which represent our way of thinking and being.”
For her part, Mercedes Oviedo, specializing in handcrafted jewelry, presented the collection “Arcoiris (Rainbow), treasures for you,” featuring necklaces, bracelets, brooches, rings; all colorful pieces, like the name suggests.
Oviedo works with a mix of cultured pearls, mother-of-pearl, semi-precious stones and recycled materials “to make a statement with the pieces, which I look to combine and contrast.”
Both Morales and Oviedo offer pieces for any occasion, all of which are available to purchase at their workshops, and in hotels such as the Cohiba, Nacional, Meliá Habana; from the Cuban Cultural Goods Fund and Cuban Association of Artists and Artisans, sponsors of Fashion Week on the island.
At the end of the day, it is the people who wear the clothes. The most important thing is to always remember that personal style is individual expression, the reflection of a certain identity or way of being.
This year the second Havana Fashion Week, brought with it higher quality and more beautiful crafted products, ranging from clothing and accessories to leather and footwear.