Cuban designers make fashion out of nostalgia, sense of humor

Clandestina, Fresko and LaJabaCity,Cuban designersHAVANA, May 27th  Endowed with Cuba’s strong graphic heritage and rich cultural identity, a group of private designers on the island are making fashion out of nostalgia and Cuban, with messages that resonate with Cubans both inside and outside the country.

are three projects that incorporate content with which Cubans, and possible only Cubans, can fully identify – instead of using images with little to do with their lives or way of thinking.

These private initiatives are a welcome alternative on the island, where stores – mostly state-run – have either a not very attractive offer for the average Cuban, or sell overpriced used clothing of such brands as Zara, Forever 21 and Primark.

“We want to create something full of content, with more significance than the fast fashion from Sweden’s H&M or Spain’s Mango, which have no particular meaning,” the Spaniard Leire Fernandez told EFE.

Fernandez and Cuban designer Idania del Rio are the “mothers” of Clandestina, a project that uses the latest cultural content “to create a new dialogue between Cuban reality and the people living it,” and who will buy these fashions as a unique sign of their times.

For sale in their small workshop is a range of products from T-shirts that read “99% Cuban design” to handbags with maps of Old Havana or photos of the legendary singer Helena Burke.

Their Vintrashe collection sums up the “Cuban determination” to “reuse and give value” to products and materials like the nylon that Havana’s new private clothing-makers recover and repurpose.

“The idea is that people will use things that make sense to them,” agreed Giselle Reigada and Mariela Hurtado, founders of Fresko, a clothes collection “made for the Cuban climate,” and which appeals to the nostalgia for the 1980s and ‘90s.

Their T-shirts feature many images from Soviet animated cartoons, known in Cuba as “little dolls,” and of kitchen appliances of the old socialist countries of Eastern Europe that stocked the island decades ago and which “remain peculiarly Cuban.”

That approach is shared by the married couple behind LaJabaCity, an “ideas laboratory” founded six months ago by designer Arnulfo Espinosa and journalist Lisandra Fariñas, who have seen its popularity grow on Facebook through an original appropriation of identity signs and logos of world-famous brands.

Espinosa mixes the “very Cuban” skill of “recontextualizing and kidding around” with his wide knowledge of graphics to play with words and images. For example, what appears to be the Coca-Cola logo really says “Coja la Cola,” which can translate as “Grab the Tail.” Or worse.

At any rate, the very Cuban joking was such a hit, Espinosa said, that “all our first trial runs sold out immediately.”