Vanesa: the Cuban bathing suit

For those born on the island, it is common to associate with heat, tropical and fun the Vanesa brand in swimsuits. And since the 1970s, Vanesa has accompanied several generations of Cubans. When this brand came out, there was not much variety of choices in Cuban stores and to this day it remains a good option to have lower prices, when compared with imported swimsuits.

In recent months we have seen it for sale in Cuban currency stores, a favorable factor to alleviate the demand for the coveted garment, especially during the summer months.

The fact that there are currently two versions of the brand: an economic and the one aimed at dollar stores chains, which, in the words of Marcial Galvez, senior specialist at the Vanesa Bathing Suits Factory, answer to a Cuban government strategy to foster domestic swimsuits.

“Both lines have good quality and presence, the same designs. They only differ in some complexities from the technological point of view “, the specialist said.

At present the production of the factory is 200 000 suits annually. Its 138 employees produce about 20 thousand units per month and between 60 and 80 different designs a year.

Birth of a legend …

Marcial told us the story of Vanesa, little known by those working in the Cuban fashion world. He works in the only factory in the country specializing in the creation of the famous brand.

“In October 1976 the design master Rafael de Leon (Santa Clara, 1942-Havana, 2006) went to a trade show in Prague, Bulgaria, along Gladys Guerra, at that time director of the Modistura de Occidente clothing company” Marcial recalls.

Leon and Gladys were intended to show female Cuban products. However, the encounter with lycra fabric until then almost unknown in Cuba and Latin America, led them to rethink the history of Cuban swimsuit.

Before that trip to Prague in the island of Cuba bathing suits were made of cotton, unsuitable for the making of a swimsuit.

De Leon, who later received the National Design Award, decided to bring to Cuba a tissue sample to experiment with it.

Looking for a name for the Cuban swimsuit

As a result of a national competition the name of Vanesa was born. Its logo is a yellow and blue butterfly, native to Cuba. In the beginning it was made in metal, sewn to the garment. It is now included on the outer label always retaining the original design.

Rafael de Leon was linked to the industry until about 1994 when he began working as a designer at the famed Cabaret Tropicana. For over ten years the factory did not have a creative official.

“We were joined by several designers but none was good enough,” Marcial said.

A breath of youth for Vanesa

One day the young designers Yandi Morgado and Anayce Figueroa knocked on the door at the 157 Nazareno Street, in the town of Guanabacoa,  birthplace of the Vanesa swimwear.

“We wanted to participate in the International Competition for fantasy for catwalks Mare di Moda (Italy) with two prototype suits. Since we didn’t have where to manufacture them we went to the factory, “Anayce explains.

The year was 2007. After working two years on Cuban television, where they won a Caracol award from UNEAC (Union of Writers and artistes of Cuba), for the costume design for the telenovela Oh, Havana!, the creative young people were unemployed.

“In Vanessa they helped us make two basic prototypes. That’s how we met Gabriela Otaño Bako-current director of Vanesa and Marcial.

“Before we are ended up being finalist for our collection modular and craft swimwear we were proposed to work in the factory,” the designer says.

Marcial and Gabriela showed them the work done previously by De Leon. Led by Anayse and Yandi Vanesa’s line was changed to resemble, increasingly, international trends.

Generational clash

In 2007 Vanesa swimsuits factory belonged to the Havana Textile Garment Company whose mission was to promote Cuba image through graphic design.

“We knew of the existence of Vanesa. We did not understand why they had allowed their production decline. Besides, models were made ​​by technicians, not designers. No wonder people study design at the university, “the interviewee analyzes.

“We struggled to learn the technological part of the process which for us was extremely complex. Our sketches clashed with reality. We had little access to the Internet and magazines.

“At that time we used to go to the shops to look Adidas products, to compare prices, fabrics and adjust to what we had on hand. Then we set out to make catwalks in stores to give more publicity to Vanesa.

“In the factory we tailored suits for children, youth, pregnant women, men, extra large; in short, all kinds of people. And the Cuban people did not know it”.

Carlos III mall was selected for the first promotional catwalk in 2008. So Vanesa began to be reborn and new collections arrived in La Puntilla, Ultra, Quinta y 42, La Maison among other major retailers.

Old story with new shines

As with everything related to the world of design and architecture, the Cuban population doesn’t have very often any guidance on trends in international fashion. Few television programs are devoted to the subject, seen on the island as rather frivolous and not as a necessity.

Only in Mujeres and Muchachas magazines the topic is somehow reflected but the presence of both publications on newsstands newspaper is limited and comes with large backlog of several months.

“People make reference to the old TV shows. Unfortunately there is much influence from Ecuador mainly related with sparkles and bright colors, “Anayse says.

“As in swimsuit the prevalence on the other styles is for the triangular bikini that has been simplified every day, as well as the black and stamped briefs. We also have a very select audience that consumes swimwear with the style of the 50s.

“Cuban men prefer boxer and shorts. That is the trend internationally. The male swimwear brand called Nautical also has great demand.

“Twice a year I see the fabrics entering the factory and analyze international trends to develop new collections. The designs are done in three color combinations, ” Anayse concludes.

Every summer the factory workers conduct surveys. The results are always the same: the public opinion is that Vanesa has been revitalized and recognized it as the Cuban bathing suit.

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