While the name Chanel may call to mind images of chicly dressed Parisiennes strolling the Champs-Elysees, the brand was just as home when its Havana-inspired 2017 Cruise collection took to the runway in the streets of the Cuban city earlier this year. Tapping into Cuba’s vibrant energy, designer Karl Lagerfeld knew that the timing was right to draw inspiration from Havana and show this collection right in the heart of the city’s vivacious streets.
As the designer told WWD earlier this year when he showed the collection, Lagerfeld found Havana to be “beautiful in a way, even if it’s a little neglected—the colors, the cars, there’s something very touching about it. Cuba is like nothing else in the world,” he said. “It has an identity I love.”
The connection between the French couturier and the Latin American aesthetic isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance. Lagerfeld himself is actually a former cha-cha and tango champion, which started a lifelong love of Latin music. And it seems only fitting that he should select the Paseo del Prado, a broad, tree-lined thoroughfare in Havana, as the show’s setting, since the avenue was designed by a French landscape architect and is adorned with bronze lions—an animal that always had special meaning to Coco Chanel.
Elements in the collection were drawn from traditional Cuban modes of dressing, including the guayabera, the pocketed Cuban shirt that Lagerfeld jokingly nicknamed the “Cuban tux.” Further inspiration came from the vibrant baroque facades of the old town and their palette of yellow, pink, orange, orange, and turquoise, and the ready-to-wear collection was shown with what Chanel has dubbed “dandy derbies,” an update to a more traditional men’s oxford shoe. “The collection is an idea of a chic and modern Cuba,” Lagerfeld continued to WWD. “It’s easy pieces.”
That sense of modernity and energy came to the forefront as the Barneys visual team began the process of collaborating with Chanel to create Cuba-themed windows for our Downtown Flagship.
“Havana is obviously so inspiring, and seems so appropriate for Chanel,” says Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman of the collection. “Chanel’s shows are these extraordinary environments, and in this case, they didn’t build a model of a Havana street in Paris, even though they clearly could have—they went to Havana. This was something very special. There’s no way you can ever recreate the sense of a country or a city. It’s the smells, the sounds, the music. It’s the people and the rhythm. And that had to be Havana. There’s no question that Havana brims with life and with energy.”
Honing all of that energy into one cohesive point of view brought both the Barneys and Chanel teams together around one central concept: Havana’s car culture. Known for its array of well-maintained vintage American roadsters, Havana’s streets teem with classics. Chanel, in fact, hired more than 100 classic cars to line the roads to and from the Cruise Collection show, so this seemed a natural fit around which to focus the Barneys windows. “For anyone who’s ever been to Havana, almost the first thing you’re aware of is a city where all the cars are of an era that comes from our past,” Freedman says. “Focusing on that element gave us the opportunity to do something that was, in a way, very refined, but in other way, somewhat flamboyant. Cars of that period really had a personality, and the car in our windows certainly does.”
Working together, the Barneys and Chanel team created the idea of a fresh take on a classic car by taking the concept and exploding it—literally. The pieces of the car have been taken apart and reassembled in a way that leaves the windows feeling light and airy, capitalizing on the fact that this was a Cruise collection. “An explosion is a way of addressing energy and expressing in that way the energy of Havana,” Freedman tells us. “It’s a subtle way, but it brings that kinetic energy to the window without any elements actually moving. It’s like a stop-action moment.”
Working alongside the Chanel team was an unusual opportunity for Freedman, but one he wholeheartedly embraced. “This process exemplified why Barneys is so interested in collaboration—it allows us to develop a relationship with a brand that goes beyond the clothes,” he says. “It goes into the way they think and the DNA of the brand. It tells a bigger story.”