Nine months after America and Cuba agreed to reignite diplomatic dealings, one month after President and First Lady Obama visited, eight days after the Rolling Stones played there, and a day after the first American cruise ship since 1959 docked in its waters, Cuba became an even bigger hot topic last night after Karl Lagerfeld showed his Chanel Cruise 2017 show in Havana.
The night kicked off what will be a series of Cruise shows in far-flung places over the next two months; Gucci will leave Italy to show in Westminster, Dior will depart Paris to show in Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and Louis Vuitton will head out of London to present in Rio.
So it’s been a big year for Cruise, but it’s also turning out to be an even bigger year for Cuba, a feeling that reached a new high with the historic happening Karl Lagerfeld and team created yesterday — one that felt far bigger than the clothes, which, for the record, were gold standard in craft and execution.
It was also an especially memorable evening for someone like me, an American expat who long fantasised about exploring Cuba by way of a classic Ford, a mojito awaiting me at the end of the ride.
You see, up until recently I couldn't travel to Cuba due to broken diplomatic relations between the two countries and shockingly draconian travel restrictions. How did it feel to be a part of the moment?
Here’s a blow-by-blow.
1) Guests were chauffered in Cuban cars
A fleet of 170 vintage Chevrolets, Chryslers, De Sotos, Oldsmobiles and the like from the 40s, 50s and 60s drove all 600 guests to the show, creating one big, loud parade (some of the car horns literally played music) snaking its way through Havana.
I'm not Beyoncé. But I imagine she must have felt similar to the way I did, as Cuban men, women and children waved at me as I rolled past them.
They were waving at all of us, smiling just as enthusiastically at the unknowns like me as some of the celebrity guests in the motorcade including Tilda Swinton, Gisele Bündchen and Vin Diesel.
2) The show was open to the public
Held on the Paseo del Prado, the famous outdoor walkway designed by Jean-Paul Nicola Forestier, the choice of venue was meant to symbolize the close ties between Cuba and France.
But it was also mainly viewed within the context of Cuba’s warming relations with America.
Earlier in the day, as we took a tour of Ernest Hemingway's house, the guide noted the American flag that once hung on his boat, and was taken down during the frost between the U.S. and Cuba, was newly restored last week.
I asked the guide about his friends, families, peers and neighbors — specifically how they felt about the sweeping change that has hit their shores so quickly. After decades of all state-led development and no capitalism, you can practically smell the scent of Starbucks and McDonald's waiting to elbow their way in.
And during lunch on a quiet stretch of beach earlier that day, I could practically see the Starwood Hotels rising up in the distance. Havana is a city of 2.1 million, with exactly five public wi-fi hotspots.
Surely, the prospect of commercialism must be a source of angst? On the contrary, he told me.
'The people here are excited about the possibility,' he explained. For one, it will help their economy. But also, he adds, 'Cubans love Obama. They don't hate America. They want to have these relationships [with the rest of the world.]'
And as we cruised through the Malécon, Cuba's famous seaside highway, and on through the tiny residential streets on our way to the show venue, the feeling in the air was palpable, this sense that anything is possible. It gave me chills. So I can't imagine the impact the sight of our honking motorcade had on people like the little boy who appeared to be the age of my soon-to-be-four-year-old and watched us roll by from his windowless apartment in a very tall, dilapidated high-rise.
I wonder what Cuba will look like for him when he's my age and how he'll feel about it.
One day you're not allowed to hang the stars and stripes on an artifact in a museum, the next day you're watching a Chanel show. But I digress.
Watching hundreds of local Cubans stand on their balconies and terraces to get a better view of Stella Tennant modeling a dapper, expertly cut Cuban suit drove home the fact that a sea change is unfolding in the country, quickly.
3) Ibeyi performed
You don’t know who Ibeyi is? You’ve got a lot of work to do, my friend. A lot of work.
A quick primer: Ibeyi are twin sisters of French-American origin who have built an emerging name for themselves as musicians and are definitely worth a listen on Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music or any other streaming service of choice.
But now they’re probably best known as one of the many much-publicised cameo appearances in Beyoncé’s latest Lemonade film. And you know, anyone who gets Queen Bey's stamp of approval...
The sisters performed the Chanel show’s opening songs before looping around to sing at the after party as well.
4) The clothes
Elevated streetwear has been a trending topic in fashion lately and Karl Lagerfeld explored it in a completely different and literal way, taking the looks one actually sees on the streets of Cuba and making them distinctively feminine and glamorous — the shimmery biker short and sweatshirt pairings, the frilled rumba dresses, the decorated tweed and the boldly graphic Cuba T-shirts, to name a few.
These were the couture-level iterations of looks I had clocked earlier in the day while sightseeing. And the people watching outside, seemed to enjoy seeing themselves in the clothes.
Speaking of representation, the cast of models included local girls from Cuba, as well as Chanel runway regulars old and new: Stella, Binx Walton, Lineisy Montero, Mariacarla Boscono, Lindsey Wixon, Soo Joo Park and Lagerfeld's adorable godson (they grow so fast!) Hudson.
5) A big dance party closed the show
And because no Cuban happening is complete without a little dancing, the show’s finale was led by a group of traditional drummers and dancers who effectively turned the runway into one big party, as guests joined them on the runway (including a dancing Tilda.)
Afterward, we piled into our retro convertibles and headed to a Cuban nightclub pop-up, specifically built for Chanel, in the middle of a square in Old Havana where a mix of models, fashion industry guests, local residents and Karl, danced through the night — as you do. Viva la Cuba.