Cuban models don tobacco togs

Designers add fashionable flair to annual cigar festival

— Runway models wore earth-toned fabric and gigantic hats resembling tobacco leaves as Cuba's annual cigar festival presented 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.

Cuban designers and European fashion houses participated in the show Thursday night, the first in the five years of the annual Habanos Festival.

Five fashion houses -- Christian Dior, Mouma Ayoub, Maurizio Galante and Cuban designers Martha Veronica and Abraham -- showed off their tobacco-inspired styles before a painted backdrop depicting a tobacco plantation. 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.

The Cuban women and men in Abraham's collection were draped in patchworks of solid color fabrics in varying shades of brown and green.

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."

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