The Chanel Catwalk and the Communists

Date: June 11, 2016

On May 3rd, Havana hosted a Chanel fashion show on its famous Paseo del Prado. The tree-lined promenade forms the boundary between Habana Vieja and Centro Habana. Generally a popular hangout spot to take in the sun was transformed into a runway with lights when Karl Lagerfeld, House of Chanel’s top designer, presented its prêt-à-porter line for its Cruise 2016-2017 Collection. Though Chanel is known for its provocative shows, this event was a first in many ways; Chanel’s first show in Latin America and for Cuba, the first time since the exile of Batista that so many foreign notables had come for a society event that embodies capitalism.

Ironically today there is no store that sells Chanel products, except for the perfume, in Cuba. Since the Revolution in 1959 until the 1990s, Cuba was closed to foreign business and private enterprises were illegal. In the early 1990’s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Soviet subsidized economy, the Cuban government loosened restrictions on trade and foreign enterprise. Today with the influx of tourist, European and Latin American companies are building hotels and investing in small local businesses. On every street corner Cubans are opening private family restaurants, paladares, and selling works of art in newly minted galleries.