Chanel meets Cuba: The National Controversy

Emily Higgins discusses the recent Chanel show in Cuba - and why it caused such controversy

19th May 2016

It’s no secret that Karl Lagerfeld loves causing controversy… nothing seems to make him happier than ruffling a few feathers. Adele, Pippa Middleton, sweatpants, tattoos and children have all been subject to opinion of the outspoken designer, and now he can add choosing Cuba as the location for the Chanel 2016/17 Cruise show to the ever growing list of his dubious actions amongst public thought.

But why exactly did his choice leave so many people riled up? Cuba is beautifully scenic and boasts idyllic weather and so seemingly the perfect choice for such a lavish event. It is however only within the last 12 months that Communist-ruled Cuba has begun warming relations with the west, leaving many critics questioning whether the decision was too much too soon and used the political attention directed at Cuba to sell clothing.

Chanel muse Gisele Bundchen was sporting a beret in a subtle nod to the underlying political themes in the Cuban inspired collection coupled with the embellished military colours- could it be a nod to Che Guevara, the iconic figure of the Cuban revolution? There is a real irony about the whole thing, since the revolution in Cuba that saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was the first time that so many notable people had travelled from abroad to see a show which essentially is a celebration of capitalism.

“A political statement of union and celebration, or just a pretty backdrop for a fashion show?”

Guayaberas – the classic short-sleeved Cuban shirts with vertical pin-tucks – were the basis for black organza cocktail blouses, and lightly pleated Chanel jackets. There were two-tone co-respondent shoes, Panama hats and Cadillac-printed T-shirts. There’s no doubt that the show was a real celebration of Cuba, but is it cashing in on the buzz the country has recently received for the sake of fashion? It seems so, as many have criticised Lagerfeld, calling it a step too far - even for him.

The luxurious event boasted jelly-bean coloured vintage cars, transporting guests to a main street in Havana, which Chanel exclusively accessed not allowing any members of the public to come close to the star studded 600-person guest list. Eyebrows were again raised when Lagerfeld chose not to invite Cuban designers to the show, again bringing into question what the real intentions of the show were. A political statement of union and celebration, or just a pretty backdrop for a fashion show?

The most notable element of controversy was the decision to hold such an elite fashion show in a country where the average annual salary of £3,000 wouldn’t even cover the cost of most items featured in the show. In fact, aside from perfume and cosmetics, Chanel clothing is not available to buy anywhere in Cuba. This makes the entire event almost laughable and, although he has claimed otherwise, questions how much consideration Lagerfeld gave when choosing its location.

As aesthetically satisfying as the event was and as beautiful as the clothing being showcased may have been, it leaves an uneasy feeling upon closer inspection and perhaps dirties the idea of fashion when blurring it with politics. The sole purpose of the show seemed to have been overshadowed with attention being drawn on Lagerfeld and his debatable decision, rather than the garments which will be real summer trend setters.

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