FASH­ION Home­grown in­dus­try bursts onto Cuban scene

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By An­drea Ro­driguez Fol­low An­drea Ro­driguez on Twit­ter: https://twit­ter. com/ARo­driguezAP

Like so much else in Cuba, shop­ping for clothes isn’t easy.

Buy­ing a sim­ple pair of socks or a T-shirt means choos­ing be­tween the wildly over­priced, shoddy of­fer­ings of state-run stores and the bales of low-priced cloth­ing il­le­gally im­ported by “mules” trav­el­ing from the United States, Ecuador or Panama.

This year, a third op­tion is burst­ing onto the scene after years of grow­ing qui­etly in back­room work­shops and bed­room stu­dios. A small home­grown fash­ion in­dus­try is win­ning renown and an in­creas­ing share of Cubans’ lim­ited cloth­ing bud­get with sim­ple but fun-and­stylish cloth­ing pro­duced on the is­land with nat­u­ral fab­rics and sold at com­pet­i­tive prices.

Hun­dreds of pri­vate de­sign­ers are turn­ing out gauzy wed­ding dresses, bril­liantly dec­o­rated bathing suits, linen pants and even uni­forms for state busi­nesses. Last week, dozens of de­sign­ers dis­played their wares at the five-day Ha­vana Fash­ion Week at Cuba’s most el­e­gant the­aters, where hun­dreds turned out for run­way shows, pri­vate fit­tings and cock­tail par­ties.

“The changes that have taken place in this coun­try, the open­ings, make things eas­ier,” said Je­sus Frias, a de­signer who put on a swimwear run­way show on Fri­day. “There’s a fash­ion re­nais­sance in Cuba but it can’t be a pri­or­ity for the state, so it’s we pri­vate de­sign­ers who are bring­ing it back.”

The growth of the ar­ti­sanal fash­ion in­dus­try comes thanks to free-mar­ket re­forms put in place by Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro after he took power in 2008. Un­like some new pri­vate busi­nesses, the fash­ion in­dus­try is re­ceiv­ing a rel­a­tively warm wel­come from the com­mu­nist bu­reau­cracy, per­haps be­cause it doesn’t di­rectly com­pete with the state. After suc­cess­ful runs in the first decades of Cuba’s so­cial­ist rev­o­lu­tion, staterun cloth­ing busi­nesses were hurt by the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and had largely dis­ap­peared by the mid-1990s.

Celebri­ties and fash­ion­istas have made Ha­vana a hot des­ti­na­tion over the last two years amid a boom in tourism set off by de­tente with the United States. In May, French la­bel Chanel took over Ha­vana’s Prado boule­vard for a run­way show that gar­nered global at­ten­tion, and anger among many Cubans for its pri­va­ti­za­tion of one of the main thor­ough­fares in the cap­i­tal of a coun­try that has de­clared so­cial­ist equal­ity as its guid­ing prin­ci­ple.

Pri­vately de­signed clothes re­main out of reach for Cubans on state salaries of about $30 a month, but those with pri­vate-sec­tor jobs or help from fam­ily over­seas can af­ford them. Mario Freixas, a well-known de­signer who dresses many of the stars of state-run tele­vi­sion, sells shirts for $20 and men’s and women’s pants for $30.

Along­side the do­mes­tic mar­ket, Cuba’s own de­sign­ers are hop­ing that their light­weight blouses and fringed swim­suits will be­come pop­u­lar items for vis­i­tors to take home.

“We all have high hopes for the tourism boom,” Frias said. “I don’t think any­one comes to Cuba to buy im­ported cloth­ing.”

Ha­vana Fash­ion Week be­gan in 2015 with 30 de­sign­ers, or­ga­nizer Cather­ine Dor­ti­cos said. This year’s edi­tion had twice as many.

“It’s a way to mo­ti­vate peo­ple, for peo­ple to see other op­tions and for ar­ti­sans to pro­duce more and feel in­spired to do new things,” she said.

Cor­re­spon­dent Michael Weis­senstein contributed to this re­port.

In this photo, Cuban fash­ion de­signer Mario Freixas poses for a photo as he walks among vin­tage amer­i­can cars on a street in Ha­vana, Cuba. Freixas, a well-known de­signer who dresses many of the stars of state-run tele­vi­sion, sells shirts for $20 and men’s and women’s pants for $30.

A model wears a swim­suit dur­ing Ha­vana Fash­ion Week at the Ali­cia Alonso Grand Theater in Ha­vana, Cuba, Fri­day. A small home­grown fash­ion in­dus­try is win­ning renown and an in­creas­ing share of Cubans’ lim­ited cloth­ing bud­get with sim­ple but fun-and-stylish cloth­ing pro­duced on the is­land with nat­u­ral fab­rics and sold at com­pet­i­tive prices.

PHO­TOS BY RA­MON ESPINOSA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this photo, mod­els present the col­lec­tion of Cuban fash­ion de­signer Analu dur­ing Ha­vana Fash­ion Week at the Ali­cia Alonso Grand Theater in Ha­vana, Cuba. Cuba’s de­sign­ers are hop­ing that their light­weight blouses and fringed swim­suits will be­come pop­u­lar items for vis­i­tors to take home.

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