Dionisio Abad Jarrosay Ruiz
Painter & Fashion designer

All roads in Havana lead to a street performance of one kind or another: a guitar player on the Malecón seawall, three batá drummers on the Plaza de Armas, a group of kids trying out hip-hop moves on the Paseo del Prado… You're much less likely to stumble on a fashion show such as the one happening today on a normally quiet residential street in the Los Pocitos neighborhood.

Interference from passing motorists is not a problem here. The sight of two very tall, very pretty models strutting down the center of the street is enough to stop traffic. Each dress or top they exhibit seems to invent a graceful new way of hinting at the body beneath. The fabrics are often surprising. One gown cut from two sheets of canvas and held together with metal ring fasteners would make an elegant and decidedly sexy statement at any London cocktail party or Tokyo nightclub.

The neighbours remain at a polite distance, peering only occasionally out of doorways or from behind windows. Perhaps this is a show of respect for Dionisio Abad Jarrosay, the multi-talented fashion designer whose home is his couture workshop, and whose street –at least on this particular afternoon –is a catwalk to show off his creations. If these creations appear to have walked off the pages of a graphic novel like the ones you find on bookshelves in Paris and Milan, that's no accident.

Dionisio, 30, is an accomplished illustrator, and some of his clothing designs began life on women characters he created for sci-fi stories. Fashion was not an obvious career choice for him. He began by following in his father's footsteps, studying art at Havana's prestigious San Alejandro Art Institute, becoming a successful painter, and returning to the school as a teacher. He arrived at fashion as a way of making his art come alive.

While this evolution might have caused some consternation in academic circles (Dionisio still teaches painting classes three days a week), the designer has enjoyed the full approval of his girlfriend and muse, Yanelis. She frequently appears in Dionisio's paintings and drawings, which he continues to produce with unabated fervor, and she serves as an advisor and model for fittings and runway shows.

At one point Dionisio has to run back to his home studio to retrieve a pair of feather earrings for Jany, the other model taking part along with Yanelis in today's impromptu street show. It doesn't take him long to search the one-room flat, whose walls are decorated with Dionisio's sketches and a couple of fine charcoal portraits by his father. The feather earrings are found in a shoe box beneath a dusty sewing table. The feathers come from a pet rooster killed to celebrate the birth of Dionisio's nephew. Dionisio is not someone who complains about the scarcity of materials, or the difficulty of producing an entire fashion collection pretty much on his own. He's ready to do whatever it takes to realise the ideas in his head, and that seems to be enough to keep him going strong.