Tobacco fashion a hit at Cuban cigar festival


Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 1:14 a.m.
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A Cuban model walks the catwalk Thursday during a fashion show at Havana's fifth cigar festival in Cuba.

(AP Photo)
HAVANA - Runway models wore earth-toned fabric and gigantic hats resembling tobacco leaves as Cuba's annual cigar festival hosted a celebration of high fashion inspired by this island's famed tobacco business.
While hundreds of cigar aficionados dined on lobster and generous portions of red wine - followed by puffs on Cuban cigars - male and female models showed off fashions made from rough fabrics ranging in tones from beige to dark brown and light green to deep olive.
Both Cuban designers and European fashion houses participated in the show Thursday night, the first held in the five years of the annual Habanos Festival.
"This night of fantasy, of beauty, of cultural identity will be hard to repeat," an announcer promised at the start of the show, held in an elegant government building featuring a huge ballroom in the exclusive western neighborhood of El Laguito.
Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, guitarist Juan Antonio Navarro and the women's chamber orchestra Romeau performed during the pause between the showing of each collection before a painted backdrop depicting a tobacco plantation.
Five fashion houses - Christian Dior, Mouma Ayoub, Maurizio Galante and Cuban designers Martha Veronica and Abraham - showed off their tobacco-inspired styles.
It was Abraham who caused the biggest sensation of all, provoking murmurs across the ballroom as the first models flounced out in his oversized floppy hats fashioned of cloth shaped like tobacco leaves.
Moving their hips quite a bit more than the average runway model, the Cuban women and men in Abraham's collection were draped in patchworks of solid color fabrics in varying shades of brown and green.
Some also had a gauzy kind of material draped over the rough, almost burlap-like cloth beneath, the same way a large smooth wrapper leaf is used to finish the rolling of a cigar, covering the rough twisted tobacco beneath and providing the smoothest smoke possible.
One woman, looking like a flower with her tobacco-leaves headdress, wore a kind of miniskirt with a midriff-baring top of the patchwork material, with more cloth used for the cape that draped behind her.
In comparison, the European designs were - well, normal.
"I think the foreigners were surprised," said Norka Mendez, a former top Cuban model from the 1950s who acted as a consultant on the fashion show. "The European houses have a lot of quality. But we Cubans have a lot of flavor."
The annual festival is held by Habanos S.A., which controls Cuba's entire cigar market. The company is operated by the government in partnership with the French-Spanish company Altadis.
About 900 people from 48 countries came this year to celebrate Cuba's cigars, marketed under such brands as Cohiba, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and Punch.
The five-day festival included a trade show, trips to the tobacco-growing region of the western province of Pinar del Rio and an elegant dinner and auction Friday night of exotic humidors stuffed with specialty cigars.

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