Havana ball: Chanel makes history with first full catwalk show in Cuba
You survive six decades un-besmirched by Western brands, then within months, the Pope, Obama, Beyonce, Jay Z and The Rolling Stones turn up. Last night, a day after the first US cruise ship in 60 years docked in Havana Harbour, planet Chanel arrived in Cuba.
Or rather 600 of Chanel's guests arrived. Members of Chanel's crack squad have been stationed in the region for months - mainly in Panama, where communications are easier - arranging hotels, sampling restaurants and orchestrating the small matter of a full Chanel catwalk show. Not easy in a country where food and board are still, as one flustered Chanel PR put it, "a bit Soviet", shops are few and far between and designer boutiques non-existent (the Dior store closed its doors in 1959). Officially the regime frowns on logos. At least Chanel and Cuba share the same initials.
Nevertheless, the advent of a Chanel resort show in a country where the average annual salary of around €5,000 is approximately the same as one of those (large sized) classic Chanel quilted handbags, has not been without controversy.
At least it has got everyone talking - about an advert Chanel shot in Cuba and its decision to hire Castro's grandson, Tony Castro, a flamboyantly good looking, luxuriously follicled model to walk in the show. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, neither "fact", Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel's president of fashion assured me, was true.
What is true was that Stella Tennant was in the show, alongside a clutch of local Cuban models. Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Paradis and Gisele Bundchen were at the show - as was Vin Diesel, here shooting 'The Fast and The Furious 8'.
Chanel had stipulated that "ordinary" Cubans to be able to watch. This was an open air show, staged along the length of the Paseo del Prado, a tree fringed gem, flanked by candy coloured Colonial mansions and the occasional brutalist block of flats. Since it was landscaped in 1772 by a Frenchman, Paseo del Prado naturally manages to incorporate a 170-metre long tiled promenade, which last night effectively became the world's longest catwalk.
It's easy to understand any scepticism - much of it from outside Cuba. Chanel however, sees this as a gesture of support for the country. Financially, as Bruno Pavlovsky says, "Chanel has nothing to gain from showing here right now." Unlike previous venues [in the past two years Chanel has shown in Seoul, Dubai, Dallas] Havana won't be a lucrative market any time soon. But in 100 years, Chanel will still be the first luxury brand to have shown here. That's worth more than any money; it's historic.