The making of: Tour de Couture in Havana

The second episode of Tour de Couture features Cuba, an island nation jam-packed with history, culture, and style.

I have been fascinated with traveling to Cuba for a very long time, especially as someone who loves all things 1950s-60s. Cuba is like being transported right back into that era, from the old cars to the architecture and even down to the old rotary dial phones. It certainly brings nostalgic feelings.

Much like in the first episode of TdC, serendipity had a role to play in turning this dream trip into another successful reality. In the midst of planning the Cuba project, Nicole spontaneously met Jonathan Skow on a holiday in Capri, Italy. Hailing from the same part of the world and having similar interests in design, he seemed like a great co-host for this trip.

I knew of Jonathan, also known as Mr. Turk, from his menswear brand and we have some mutual friends in common. We met on vacation in Capri and I asked him if he would join me on the trip to Cuba. I thought he would be the perfect travel companion because of his love of vintage style and architecture.

Getting together a crew was the next challenge and Nicole was pleased to be able to lean on connections from the Tokyo episode to form a good team in Cuba. Birgit Moller, the camerawoman on both episodes, had worked on a film in Cuba before and had contacts there already. A production company in Havana made the project complete by bringing in the right people where needed and introducing Nicole to a hair and makeup artist to perfect the looks featured throughout the episode.

Fitting into Cuba’s signature style

Cuba’s history has enabled the preservation of a particular culture and style. The country’s visitors time travel to an era of decades past upon arrival.

When we arrived at the airport, a vintage convertible car was waiting for us. I was in awe of how everything remained intact, just like a time warp. For me that an amazing feeling since we live in such a modern world today.

Although visitors are fairly commonplace on the streets of Havana these days, visitors like Nicole and Jonathan, complete with vintage styles and a film crew in tow, are a little bit more unique and they definitely raised some eyebrows throughout their adventures around the city.

Sometimes people were suspicious about why or what we were filming, which was a bit of a challenge, especially when trying to get access to film inside some of the buildings. But once they started talking to Jonathan and me, they immediately warmed up to us and complimented us on our vintage wardrobes.

Finding fabrics with Cuban flare to get custom outfits made for the episode, as well as coming across some perfect vintage pieces, Nicole was able to put together looks that paired well with the ambiance of their surroundings. Architecture and fashion were at the forefront of this thirteen-day trip, with Cuban culture permeating itself into both seamlessly.

We wanted to visit the most iconic mid-century architecture and spontaneously went to a boxing gym. We did some research about local fashion designers and had some meetings planned in advance, but a lot of the trip just evolved as we were there.

Jonathan and Nicole with the boxers of  Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Tejo .

Jonathan and Nicole with the boxers of Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Tejo.

That natural evolution of the trip provided by the friendliness of locals made Cuba a very authentic experience. Limited access to Internet is common in Cuba and so relying on the help of locals was critical to filming this episode of Tour de Couture. Disconnecting from the worldwide web also made the immersion into a new place and culture so much more tangible.

A great co-host and crew made the trip complete and Nicole is able to reflect back on some of the most memorable moments of this tour.

The rides in classic cars with the wind in our hair, listening to Reggaeton and old-school Cuban music, visiting the homes of local fashion designers, drinking mojitos with the crew while talking about life... I loved every moment in Cuba.

Her advice to fellow travelers that wish to experience Cuban culture is this:

Stay at an Airbnb and take the local breakfast each day. I’m craving guayaba juice just thinking about it!

From neighbors to friends

Even though the political climate between Cuba and other nations has been strained, particularly since the Cuban Revolution and the takeover of communist ideology, the people of Cuba remain among the most hospitable.

Despite the relationship between Cuba and the USA, people were very warm and welcoming. I was really impressed with the kindness we received and I hope that Cuba will protect its rich culture and historic architecture. It’s truly a national treasure.

As Cuba opens itself up to the modern world more, Nicole’s hope is that the country finds a good balance between preserving its history and unique style with modernizing and revitalizing its economy and society. Forgetting that quintessential Cuban charm would be a real shame and a loss to both Cuba and the rest of the world.

***

Sadly, another great loss was felt recently in the fashion world as Jonathan Skow tragically passed away.

Jonathan was such an easy-going, warm-hearted and free-spirited guy. One of my favorite memories of Cuba is when he twirled me around the hotel lobby at the Havana Riviera as we listened to a live band playing salsa music. He was always up for fun and he made the trip to Cuba even more memorable with his positive attitude, creative eye for photography, and his infectious laugh. He will be missed.

Nicole and Jonathan enjoying some live salsa music.

Nicole and Jonathan enjoying some live salsa music.

We dedicate this episode of Tour de Couture to Jonathan Skow.

Behind the ScenesSonia Motisca