After failing to close Guantanamo Bay, President Obama may leave office succeeding in opening up the rest of Cuba. This historic, monumental shift in public policy will have implications for not only politicians but brands and marketers, as well.
And what better way to mark a new beginning between Cuba and the United States than with Gisele and Vin Diesel? Hey, it's better than using a taco bowl to connect with Hispanics, right?
Last week, Chanel landed in Havana, their first show in Latin America. From the moment their boat docked, loaded with aforementioned celebrities and models, Chanel put out all the stops for its "Cruise 2017" collection. Designer Karl Lagerfeld said he looked to Cuba for inspiration, but what came out of this was a Frankenstein's monster of stereotypes.
Cuba is best known for feeling like a time capsule, with colorful streets filled with cars from the 1950s, before the U.S. embargo halted any imports to the island nation.
But what some can enjoy from afar as quaint and colorful buries a very dark reality of Cuban history.
What Chanel did was less groundbreaking than they think. A fashion show with models wearing military fatigue and Che Guevara berets is pretty offensive to Cubans, Cuban-American refugees, and anyone with an understanding of 20th century history.
Outside of Cuba, we have the luxury of idealizing Che Guevara from a distance. We ironically sell t-shirts and posters of one of history's staunch opponents of material capitalism. While Chanel meant no harm in their appropriation of the Castro regime, they turned their runway in the stress of Havana into a mockery of a very intense period of mass torture and execution of political prisoners. Parading models around wearing "sexy" military berets is grossly offensive to those who were forced to flee Cuba and brave the 90-miles of shark infested waters to safe haven in Florida.
But this was a party that the Cuban people were not invited to. The streets of Havana were lined with foreign photographers and journalists, but the actual Cuban citizenry were held back behind metal barricades and a small army of police officers.
And that's about as close as most will ever come to a Chanel product. With the average Cuban earning just twenty dollars a month, it would take over 10 years to be able to afford the average Chanel bag.
This isn't about one fashion show. When brands come to Cuba, they have to do it right, and they have to do it right by the people of Cuba. Otherwise, in an attempt to be kitsch and playful, brands risk reinforcing the legitimacy of the very autocracy that reformers have been fighting against for decades. When Cuba opens up to America, it's not doing so for our abject entertainment. These are real people, who are part of real families that are facing severe challenges.
If we ever get to a time when Ford and GM are selling new cars in Cuba, we should not grieve over the loss of 1950s hotrods. To the outside world these vestiges of a bygone era may be appealing, but they also represent an economic system that deprives the Cuban people of an opportunity to make a decent living.
Cuban culture is rich, vibrant, and should be celebrated as the country opens its doors to consumerism and outside investment.
But like the mojitos that Vin Diesel was sipping, it's best enjoyed responsibly.