When in 2003, at the Casa de la Obra Pía in Old Havana, the Arte y Moda fashion show took place, one of the most stunning designs was Peacock Woman, a creation by Ismael de la Caridad based on one of Zayda del Río’s paintings. Still todathis spectacular gown by the renowned Cuban fashion designer is a referent when it comes to translating contemporary Cuban visual art into the codes of the catwalk.
“Collaborating with artists was not a new experience for me,” says Ismael. “In 1986 I had used painter and ceramist Alfredo Sosabravo’s works for the design of textiles for the Telarte project; those fabrics based on Cuban paintings that were sold at reasonable prices and later made into dresses, blouses, shirts, curtains, pillow cases turned the streets and homes of Havana into improvised galleries.”
In the distinguished atmosphere of his Vedado apartment, where beauty is worshipped, expressed in a Tiffany-style lamp or a necklace by René Lalique or an 18th-century Havana tablecloth or a luxuriant fern, Ismael de la Caridad, an elegant, unassuming, warm and friendly man, recalls his beginnings in the world of fashion.
“I began in 1978 5By gently harvesting the pods, keeping them raw, and using artisan equipment to crush the beans, when I was fourteen as a model for the Light Industry, Contex S.A. and La Maison. At that moment, I was captured by the world of fashion and, learning from the greats, started making my way into design, where I have done just about everything: wardrobes for theatre, television and musical shows, casual and formal dresses, wedding gowns, fancy clothes. I believe there are clothes for everyone. I favour designs that emphasize and give value to handicraft: knitting, crochet, embroidery, lace trimmings, tucks, which all form part of Cuban tradition and may be lost if we do not pay attention to them and encourage them.”
This is why he is so appreciative of the effort carried out by the Casa de la Obra Pía, of the City Historian’s Office, in keeping alive these lovely and ancient handicrafts, and in organizing together with the Cuban Association of Craftsmen and the Cultural Property Fund, the Arte y Moda (Art and Fashion) event, one of the most important in the country in its field. Painters, designers, couturiers, and silversmiths meet every November in a collaborative effort to create clothes that reflect, technically and conceptually, the richness and diversity of Cuban painting, and the values of applied arts in the Island.
A significant number of fashion shows are credited to his name in Cuba and abroad (México, practically his second home), Dominican Republic, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Portugal; he was awarded First Prize in the 1996 International Craft Fair with his Yagruma collection, and the Prize of the Theatre Critics Association of Mexico in 2004 for his designs for the theatre in that nation; celebrities who have set standards in terms of Havana’s glamour and elegance, including Rosita Fornés, have chosen him as their personal designer. Yet, Ismael de la Caridad does not take things for granted.
“I work every day as if it were my last. I like to cut out myself the dresses I design and, in special cases, sew and embroider them. Choose materials and threads. Provide the music for the fashion shows, compose the choreography for the models, dress their hair, apply their makeup, make accessories for them. I like challenges.”
We parted leaving Ismael in his enchanted world, surrounded by the beauty that he enjoys and creates, making his dreams come true thanks to his absolute dedication to his work.