Cuban fashion takes its nose out of the water

Cuban fashion takes its nose out of the water

A woman walks down a street in Havana, on October 27, 2017. Almost drowned by the crisis of the 90s, the emerging Cuban fashion begins to prosper, driven by small private projects. YAMIL LAGE AFP / Getty Images

HAVANA, Oct. 29 (AFP) Imbued in the world of biochemistry and molecular biology, Fabián Lombillo is also concerned about being fashionable at age 23, especially now that “the culture of good dress” is growing in Cuba, he says.

“In Cuba, this culture of good dress, or dress comfortably, according to what is used, what is worn, is starting to grow and I think it’s good,” says Lombillo, while reviewing the textile offers at a craft fair in Havana.

Almost drowned by the crisis of the 90s, the incipient Cuban fashion begins to emerge favored by small private entrepreneurship and a utilitarian orientation, which must overcome even economic limitations, bureaucratic obstacles and a social trend kitsch.

“Decidedly for us, the utilitarian clothes are a priority. It would be crazy for us to think that we can do, even with the resources, what Paris, London and Milan can do, because our society is totally different, “says Jesús Frías, a 55-year-old couturier.

The crisis of the 90s almost erased a certain boom that fashion had gained under the narrow limits of a state industry, once it overcame ideological curbs that considered it a capitalist frivolity in a socialist society.

With “the economic depression the textile industry practically disappears, the priorities were other, it is necessary to be reasonable, the priority was to survive”, says Frias, underlining that the creation did not die and began a “fashion of resistance” that now emerges.

Many Cubans then resolved their needs in second-hand stores, “recycled clothes”, which the popular voice baptized “trapishoping” (rag).

The reforms of President Raul Castro, especially the private work that already occupies half a million Cubans, brought back the designers, this time as private craftsmen.

Small workshops have appeared in Cuban cities, with designs that adapt to the climate and rescue cultural traditions of dress in the tropics.

But the artisans-designers now private face “two edges of the problem, one is the material and the other is technological,” says Frías.

Attached to an association of artisans and under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, they are allowed to make small and limited imports of materials at wholesale prices.

But they are insufficient. In the local (state) market these materials are scarce and expensive, which hinders their access and raises the final price of the garment.

The other brake is the almost impossibility to reproduce on an industrial scale his designs, which are left in a handcrafted effort.

Even so, Cuban designers and designers try to do a didactic work influencing the popular taste of dressing, in short television spots, sporadic parades and events such as the Fashion Week of Havana, which this week makes its third annual edition.

“Normally these clothes go to specific stores of the Cuban Fund of Cultural Assets, as well as to boutiques, where it is the most exclusive and is for sale for all the people who want to buy them”, says Ignacio Carmona, a couturier with more than 50 years of experience, of the Organizing Committee of the Week.

Lombillo checks well before buying. In state stores, in national currency or dollars, the offer is outdated, of dubious quality and expensive.

The one of the artisans is attractive, but its prices, very respectable for your student pocket.

The black market remains. Stores or people who sell clothes clandestinely, arriving in Cuba in airline baggage, from Miami, Mexico, Quito or Panama, with a more varied and cheaper offer than the state ones.

Sequins that blind in the tropical sun, garments with American flags and black sweatshirts are frequent in the streets of Havana, as a counter-trend linked to the profuse listening of a reguetón at full volume.

In “a globalized world it is difficult to avoid influences, but there is always room for the national thing,” says Frías. And he says: “The only thing I’m not going to renounce is our identity.”