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Photography Joshua Gordon, Courtesy of Havana Club and Aries

Watch a preview from Butterfly, an intimate portrait of Cuban trans women

Joshua Gordon’s latest project has been commissioned as part of a collaboration between Havana Club and Aries

Following the news that the rising streetwear label is up for an award at the 2019 British Fashion Awards next month, Aries joins forces with storied rum brand Havana Club on a new multi-media project. Not only will the collaboration offer up a nine-piece capsule collection, but also a book, an exhibition, and a short film entitled Butterfly.

Shot on the streets of Havana, former Dazed 100-er Joshua Gordon’s film offers a glimpse of what it’s like to live in the Cuban capital as a trans woman in 2019, demonstrating the raw, intimate feel that has become his signature.

Alongside this, the project also sees Gordon team up with Aries’ creative director Sofia Prantera and Jane How on a London fashion shoot, in which they reimagined La Giraldilla – the bronze, female figure that has overlooked the Cuban capital for three centuries. Featuring Jess Maybury and Kasper Kapica, the resulting photographs evoke the branded adverts found in 70s magazines like Playboy, where cultural content was intercalated with suggestive advertising of alcohol and tobacco.

With months of work going into the different areas of the expansive, multimedia project, November will see it make its big debut around the world, with events set to take place in Milan, London, Berlin, and Tokyo.

Gordon spent a month living in Havana and delving into the city’s contemporary art and music scenes, sharing drinks with his subjects and joining them on nights out at their favourite drag clubs. Eventually he found himself invited into their homes. “It was quite interesting shooting them at home, which I've never really done with documentary work, it's always been on the street, whereas this time I really went to their homes, their rooms, met their parents. I tried to get a lot deeper than I've gone before.”

However, as in any society, asking people to stand in front of the camera is a sensitive subject. “Some people I met were really keen to be involved straight away and other people were a bit cautious. It was just a matter of time and getting to know them, really.” He says the key to his work is building trust, and to never seek to sensationalise his subjects’ lives. “I try to achieve authenticity and realness in my work through dialogue with my subjects, just by trying to make friends with them and ask them what they want to talk about. I really appreciate when I watch something and it feels genuine, fiction or documentary.”

“I try to achieve authenticity and realness in my work through dialogue with my subjects, just by trying to make friends with them and asking them what they want to talk about. I really appreciate when I watch something and it feels genuine” – Joshua Gordon

Gordon ended up meeting Shayra and Isabella, a pair of identical twins who transitioned around the same time, and both moved from their rural hometown to Havana. “They came to my house one day and we drank some rum and ate and spent an hour filming, and Shayra brought some of her poems,” he recalls.

Wanting to capture the full experience, Gordon included Shayra’s writings and drawings in the book. He sees her contribution as an important part of making the project a true collaboration – the only ethical way of portraying these beautifully complex individuals. “When you're shooting a community like this you have to be mindful of how they want to be perceived. I don’t think it’s fair for me to go to Cuba and tell them what I want to see. It was a big thing to make sure that I could make something they were proud of.”

“Josh’s honest and beautiful portrayals of forgotten people and subcultures are both moving and uplifting, so when Havana club approached Aries about a collaboration working with him it seemed like the perfect project,” explains Sofia Prantera of Butterfly. “Havana Club were incredibly open about focusing on Cuba’s nightlife and transgender communities, and it was an opportunity for me to do something outside of fashion and focus on gender identity, which is a theme that has informed my work from the start.”  

Likewise, Gordon is overjoyed about the outcome of the project, none of which would have been possible without the support of Aries and Havana Club, whose capsule collection will launch later this week. “Sofia explained to me that she wanted to work with artists and give them full creative freedom and support them in any way. Aries were so sweet, they helped me so much, they designed the whole book, any time I needed any advice or anything they were there with me. I've never been given so much freedom to do what I want.”

Watch a preview from BUTTERFLY below and stay tuned for the screening of the full 22-minute-long film