In Havana, they don't have Coca Cola - and they certainly don't have Calvin Klein pants. Alix Sharkey watches as some Habaneros take on the might of a consumer icon
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The Independent Culture
PRACTICALLY THE first thing visitors see on entering Cuba at Havana's Jose Marti airport is a sign on the wall next to immigration control. It says, "No Somos Un Pais Rico, Pero Samos Un Pais Digno". We are not a rich country, but we are a dignified one.

Next year is the 40th anniversary of the Cuban republic: a generation has grown old since Castro, Guevara, Cienfuegos and their ragged revolutionaries rode triumphantly into Havana, forcing the US-backed dictator Batista to flee, and precipitating a political hostility and strictly enforced American trade embargo that endures to this day. Foreign consumer goods - cars, foodstuffs, hi-fi components, etc - are simply not available. Young Cubans (who cannot remember the bad old days of the Fifties, when malnutrition was commonplace, illiteracy was over 90 per cent, infant mortality stood at 20 per cent, and nearly a third of Havana's population depended at least partly on the proceeds of prostitution) have no access to seductive Western brands such as Coca Cola, Levi's - or Calvin Klein.

So when German fashion photographer Mirco Taliercio arrived in Cuba late last year with 13 pairs of Calvin Klein men's underpants, he had no problem getting Habaneros to pose for him. "There was no discussion about payment, they were happy to model the pants as long as they could keep them. Everybody knew the brand." But he was shocked, he says, by the way people regularly invited him to stay at their homes. Taliercio believes that, ironically, it is the country's lack of advertising - that relentless imperative to consume - which allows Cubans to be so relaxed, open and generous. But this, he says, will change very soon. "It's sad in a way," says Taliercio, "but entirely understandable that they want access to all these goods. It reminds me of German reunification. That, too, was driven by the creation of new markets and the desire for brands like Mercedes and Adidas."

The shoot, he says, was a personal project. It was not commissioned by, and has not been offered to Calvin Klein. "If you look at their campaign, everything is perfect: the palm trees, the models, the tans. They even put the model's dick on the right side of the pants. No, this is not their aesthetic. This is fun, these are people who don't care about looking perfect. This is Cuba." !