Material World

Fast Lane

Cuban designer Osmany Laffita create custom couture for all

Some of the world’s best couture fashion comes out of Nižbor, Czech Republic. Hard to believe, but the small village about 50 kilometers west of Prague is where Cuban designer Osmany Laffita creates outfits for personalities around the world, including Ivana Trump and Dagmar Havel. His creativity, choice of fabrics and commitment to his clients has made him an in-demand designer for choosy ladies the world over.

Laffita graduated from the prestigious art school San Alejandro in Havana. He worked for a Cuban fashion magazine and then decided he wanted to continue his schooling. His mother worked in the diplomatic arena for Cuba, and suggested he head to Eastern Europe. In 1987, at the age of 22, he moved to Prague to study fashion. Jobs in the fashion industry followed; he spent three years at Versace, followed by a stint at Kenzo. Finally, he decided it was time to strike out on his own and he chose a market segment that didn’t seem to be the most profitable for the Czech Republic in late ’90’s.

“I showed a local Czech designer the design of one of my ball gowns,” he says. “She said ‘you are crazy, who’s going to buy that here?’ I said, this is my dream, this is how I will start – and I ended up selling the whole collection.”

He credits that early success to the right time and the right inspiration – “it’s always best to be first,” he says with a smile.

Having well-known people like and wear your clothing doesn’t hurt either. The daughter of Dagmar Havel, at the time the Czech Republic’s First Lady, came to Laffita’s first show. Afterwards, she asked the designer why her mother hadn’t been invited. Laffita replied that she was invited, but didn’t come. Mrs. Havel made it to the second collection’s show, and afterwards asked him to design some outfits for her. His third collection was shown in Paris. Mrs. Havel came to the show, which generated a lot of buzz. Ivana Trump also attended that show – wearing one of Laffita’s suits. In 2002, Trump asked him to do a fashion show in New York to raise funds for victims of the floods that year in the Czech Republic.

“It was a chain reaction – someone introduced me to someone, who introduced me to someone else,” Laffita says of that time.

For Laffita, the creation starts with the material. He says it’s an instant decision.

“The concept of the collection is second,” he says. “If I don’t fall in love with the fabric immediately, I don’t buy it.”

He says he never listens to what’s trendy when it comes to the material – however when it comes time to choose the color, he will follow the trends of the season.

Now that he has his fabric, he can begin to draw. He says he can only draw at his desk.

“I don’t know if there’s some kind of energy there, to create,” he says. “I tried to draw on holiday, but I only drew two dresses when normally I would draw 10-12.”

There’s no messy desk with discarded drawings surrounding Laffita.

“Everything is in my head, when I’m sure it will be good, then I draw it,” he says. “It’s like a painter, he already knows what he is going to paint when he starts.”

Laffita thinks this may have something to do with his schooling – he studied painting in Havana. An internship at a textile factory doing prints for fabric is what led him to his love affair with materials.

Each collection Laffita does has 52 dresses. Once it’s been shown and he has a potential client, his role changes a bit.

“People trust their designer, I’m a confidant,” he says. “People stand half naked in front of their designer; I give my opinion and it’s important for the client to trust and believe you.”

Laffita says he never does sales at any cost, and will advise a client if a material or color wouldn’t be right for her.

“I may lose a sale, but I won’t lose a customer” he says of this decision. “It has to be a love story between the fabric, the design and the body that will wear it.”

His Summer 2008 collection, Asia de Cuba (Asia from Cuba) was inspired by a trip to Japan. He says he wanted to make a collection with an Asiatic style but with a Latin American influence.

“The colors are Cuban, but the cuts are Asian-inspired,” he says. “It’s an adaptation, but it was inspired by Japan.”

The materials are light airy – lots of chiffon and silk, often topped with a kimono-style jacket.

While Laffita’s empire has grown to include designs for the home, accessories and eyewear, his favorite thing to design is still the evening dress.

“It’s because of the fabric and I love the elegance of women,” he says. “It’s important to be trendy and up-to-date, but my vision of women stopped in 1930’s Havana.”