Chanel shuts down heart of Havana for star-studded fashion show

Fashion fans including Gisele Bundchen, Vin Diesel and Tilda Swinton arrive in vintage American cars, but ordinary Cubans are kept away from event that seals communist island’s status as hot destination

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 11:25am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 11:31am

Wealthy fashion-lovers and celebrities from around the world flocked beneath arc lights on Wednesday night on a grand Havana colonial avenue transformed into a private catwalk for French fashion house Chanel.

With hundreds of security guards holding ordinary Cubans behind police lines blocks away, actors Tilda Swinton and Vin Diesel, supermodel Gisele Bundchen and Cuban music stars Gente de Zona and Omara Portuondo watched slender models sashay down Prado boulevard in casual summer clothes that seemed inspired by the Art Deco elegance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

With the heart of the Cuban capital effectively privatised by an international corporation under the watchful eye of the Cuban state, the premiere of Chanel’s 2016-2017 “cruise” line offered a startling sight in a country officially dedicated to social equality and the rejection of material wealth.

The fashion show was the most extreme manifestation to date of the hot new status Cuba has assumed in the international art and cultural scene since the December 2014 declaration of detente with the United States.

US President Barack Obama visited in March, the Rolling Stones performed in Havana the same week, the first US cruise ship in almost four decades docked on Monday and the latest instalment of the multibillion-dollar Fast and Furious action movie franchise is being filmed here now.

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Many Cubans say they are delighted their country is opening itself to the world, offering ordinary people a first-hand look at celebrities and extravagant productions. But the rampant display of wealth on the streets of Havana is providing fodder for many already disenchanted by Cuba’s failure to deliver on promises of equality.

Radio announcer Mabel Fernandez arrived four hours before the start of the show, eager to give her 14-year-old daughter a taste of a world of international fashion that the girl had only seen on television and in movies.

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“We need this type of novel event so people can know more of culture,” she said.

But as police swarmed the area in the hours before the show, virtually all residents of the capital were swept behind yellow barricades and unbroken lines of uniformed and plain-clothes police at least a block away.

Reinaldo Fonseca, a local model, stood with a group of friends similarly trying to make their careers in fashion and watched as rich foreigners with invitations arrived at the event in specially rented antique American cars.

“It’s a shame they don’t let us pass,” she said.