When Kelsy Dominick was approached by Cuban Trade representatives after a showing at New York Fashion Week, she had no idea that she would become the first American designer since the 1960 to showcase her work in Cuba.
The event that marked Kelsy’s debut in Cuba was this year’s Arte y Moda, the largest fashion event in Cuba’s history. For the last 20 years, it has been acclaimed as the highlight of Havana fashion and a global stage for inspiration. The event, held at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, attracts artists and diplomats all over the world. Until this year, no American were directly involved.
The Cuba Journal caught up with Kelsy to discuss her experience in Cuba.
About Cuban fashion, Kelsy says, “Cuba’s fashion scene really heated up this year. Right behind French designer label Chanel having just shown in April, the French have always been able to have access to the Havana platform. Americans, however, are breaking into new territory and causing a stir of response.”
“The biggest cultural shock was how safe it was,” says Kelsy about the first moments of her experience in Cuba and the distorted view of Cuba in American media.
Soon enough after her arrival in Havana, Kelsy connected with fashion artists and fell in love with the people and the country. According to Kelsy, the resource-constrained Cuban fashion industry is closer to her affinity for craftsmanship in clothing than most of the other places she has visited in the world: “They use soap instead of taylor’s chalk because that’s what they can afford.”
She adds, “the warmth of the people, the openness,” is pulling strings of reflection about her trip and igniting an urge to, “portray Cuba for what it really is.”
“There are so many ways to break barriers between countries that are at conflict. Fashion is one of those ways. I am passionate about how design moves people and ultimately moves the world,” says Dominick.
One of her collaborators, Mario Freixas, is a well-known designer who dresses many of Cuba’s television stars and sells shirts for $20 and men’s and women’s pants for $30, “because that’s what’s affordable for Cubans,” – Kelsy says as a counterpoint to the Havana Chanel show held earlier this year.
Juan Carlos, head director of Arte y Moda for the past 20 years, comments, “Kelsy Dominick is not only the first American designer to show in Cuba since the embargo, but she is also the first to ever show in Arte y Moda‘s entire history. Given of our history with the U.S. it is even possible she may be the first American ever…we are honored to have her.”
As a result of her exposure at Arte y Moda, Kelsy has been invited to show at the Cannes Festival in 2017.
Kelsy Dominick founded DiDomenico Designs in 2009 in the D.C. area. According to Kelsy, DiDomenico Designs embodies simple elegance—a wardrobe that transcends through time.