"I said 'Cuba' as a joke when we discussed where Chanel could go next!" Karl Lagerfeld claimed, looking around the all-music, all-dancing party in a historic Havana square.
Models, guests and the surrounding spectators were serenaded by traditional Cuban music after the show
The cathedral's rainbow windows were as colourful as the 1950s open-topped Chevrolets in bubblegum pink, daffodil yellow and pale blue. These historic cars drove us to El Paseo Del Prado, the tree-lined colonial avenue from Cuba's pre-revolutionary heyday.
Models and guests party down the runway for the show’s finale
Here, the fashion crowd was greeted by Cuban bands while the locals, mostly shut away fromm this Chanel glamour, piled on every balcony of the pastel-painted houses to gawp, applaud and dance to the music.
After the visits of President Obama and The Rolling Stones, this Chanel Cruise show was surely the icing on the Cuban cake for those who want to cast off the country's communist heritage.
Suzy was assigned a convertible pink Chevvy to ferry her around town
But how could Karl compete with these exceptional surroundings? The Cruise show was an open-air parade of models with Cuban hats, funky bags and T-shirts under their tweeds announcing "Viva Coco Libra".
Karl and his godson Hudson take their bow
The collection had a powerful sense of freedom, with calf-length skirts swinging to the music and showing the audience patterns of juicy flowers or those racy, colourful cars.
A fresh summery look accessorised with delicate heeled sandals
As ever, Karl's genius lies in his deep cultural knowledge, reflecting the pre-Castro era of Art Deco and American winter holidays in the sun, while hanging on to the Coco codes. These include tweed, even if the hot, sweaty, thunder-rumbling night had actress Tilda Swinton waving her buttercup-yellow fan and Fast and Furious movie actor Vin Diesel dressed down to a light shirt.
A beret references Che Guevara, for a sporty yet unmistakably Chanel look
Passing out umbrellas as the first raindrops started to fall was a young man in a green check shirt who turned out to be Antonio Castro, the grandson of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
A fabric camellia is tucked into the rim of a staw hat, left and below, while a "revolutionary’s" beret is given the Chanel treatment with sequins
This might have been a poignant historical moment or a tasteless flaunting of consumerism, depending on your point of view. But there was nothing flashy or vulgar about this Cruise collection.
A frayed hem echoed the fringing on a matching shoulderbag
By the time that Karl and his godson Hudson walked the marbled Paseo del Prado, Havana's historic colonial-era avenue, the show turned into a party with supermodel Gisele Bündchen leading the open-air dancing with the crowds packed on the balconies joining in.
An embellished tea dress referenced Havana’s colonial past
Karl said that he immersed himself in the cultural richness of Cuba and the show embraced the "Coco Cuba" T-shirt, while Chanel's signature camellia might be tucked into a straw hat.
Easy calf-length dresses were touched with the house codes, even if those might be re-interpreted as spiky palm leaves on a full white skirt.
T-shirts read "Coco Libra" in homage to the surroundings
Flat sandals or 1950s kitten-heel shoes gave a feeling of freedom as the models strode the long walkway.
The originality of the collection, down to the smallest details, showed the best of Karl Lagerfeld: his cultural depth, his design skills, and his ability to bring the chic Parisian spirit to sporty clothes.
Specially commissioned fabrics had prints of vintage American cars
Panama hats off too for the Chanel studios, which turn ideas into reality. For example, a tweed suit had the hem dissolving into a fringe to match the giant shoulder bag.
This was Cuba imported into a fashion dreamscape, rather than the prosaic summer casual clothes worn by American tourists from the very first cruise ship to come from Florida since the 1959 Communist Revolution. Was it inappropriate to hold this Chanel show in a country where poverty and a scraping-to-get by daily life has a face-off with fashion's highest expression of luxury?
The spirit of Old Havana appeared in several ensembles, from panama hats to two-tone correspondent shoes
Looking at the art on display in a fledgling modern art gallery, converted from a former peanut factory, I remembered how often culture — and particularly fashion — is a bellwether of changing times. Chanel's Havana holiday was far more a tribute to Cuba and its heritage than a capitalist statement woven in tweed.
Karl Lagerfeld researched Cuba’s modern history in depth, and referenced the looks in his collection