Travel Diary: Designer Nikki Chasin Takes Her Grandmother to Cuba

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07.14.16

New York City-based designer Nikki Chasin’s clothing makes you want to book a permanent vacation and ride off into the sunset, slit skirts and striped dresses in hand. They’re the kind of clothes that manage to match elegant draping with sporty cuts and bold prints with beautiful textiles, all resulting in pieces that look just as at home at the beach as they do on a city street.

Chasin spent her childhood in Miami. Growing up in Miami also meant that Cuba, only a couple hundred miles offshore, was a looming presence. Cuba was virtually closed off to Americans for almost all of Chasin’s life, meaning that although she grew up in a city with one of the largest Cuban populations in the United States, the country was unreachable.

So when travel restrictions between Cuba and the United States were loosened, it’s no surprise that the ever-adventurous Chasin planned a trip. And when it came to picking a travel buddy, Chasin looked to her grandmother Lila, to whom (along with her grandmother Libby) she dedicated her Parson’s thesis collection in 2012.

The two set off on an exploration of Cuba, soaking in the sights and sounds of an at once familiar and foreign culture. And lucky for us, they brought back an album full of gorgeous pictures documenting their adventure.

Why did you decide to go to Cuba? 

I’m originally from Miami, where there’s a large Cuban population. When travel restrictions to Cuba were softened, it was huge news. Cruise ships only started to travel from Miami to Cuba in May, which is when we went. We spent three days there.

Why did you decide to go on this trip with your Grandma Lila?

Her 85th birthday was in May and my mom had the idea to take her on this trip to celebrate.

Does she have a favorite piece from your collection? 

She has a lot of opinions, but she was especially fond of the Ada Buttondown, both the eyelet and the stripe. I love to put her in anything colorful and playful. It goes with her style.

Did you find any inspiration in Cuba? 

Because Cuba has been so cut off from the U.S. and because of trade restrictions with the rest of the world, it’s like stepping back in time. Most people do not have cars, and there are many outdoor communal spaces where locals hang out during the day. The colors of the buildings — lots of pinks, greens and blues — were really inspiring. The mix of different architectural styles, like Moorish, Art Deco and Eclectic, brings to mind the mix of textures and silhouettes that I’m often drawn to.

What was your favorite place that you visited? What about Cuba was the most surprising or least expected?

I loved Old Havana — the open plazas and interaction in the streets.

While I’m aware of the history between Cuba and the United States, I was still surprised by the lack of commerce and choice. Most of the businesses are owned by the government. There is generally one brand, which is government owned, for items like soda and dry goods.

Do you have any favorite memories from your trip?

The show at the Tropicana nightclub in Havana was kitschy and fun, with crazy costumes in unusual color combinations.

I loved traveling in a car from the 1950s a bit outside of Havana to Ernest Hemingway’s house. It’s beautifully kept and gives a great sense of what Cuba was like for visitors before the revolution.

Shop Nikki Chasin and follow her on Instagram @omgnikkic.

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