|by Ki Hackney
The Panama hat: This legendary light colored, warm-weather hat has been the preferred topper of some of the world’s sexiest men and some of the most influential. Late night movie buffs will easily recall the sensual glamour of Clark Gable, Sean Connery, and Fred Astaire, Broadway’s Noel Coward and Flo Ziegfeld, and even Anthony Hopkins, as the villainous Hannibal Lechter, wearing their Panamas. Historically, international politicos have done as much or more to popularize this classic hat.
Some Panamas come from Colombia and Peru, but the very beset and the finest, are made in Ecuador. The finest Ecuadorian Panamas are made in the town of Montecristi. “By definition, a Montecristi hat is hand woven,” says Steve Singer, president of Hartford York, a six-year-old mail order hat specialist that offers a broad range of the best from around the world, sending catalogs to 2.5 million customers and selling at least 40,000 hats each year. Montecristi Panamas are handmade by a handful of craftsmen with the skill to weave these fine hats.
|Using a tradition dating back to the Incas in the 1500s,
all Ecuadorian Panamas are made from the fibers of the toquilla palm.
The fronds are picked apart by hand. “Master weavers actually collect
the palm fronds themselves and painstakingly split the fibers,” says
Singer. The results are remarkably fine, densely woven products that
feel like the finest silky linen. The finer the fiber, the finer the
grade and the fewer the hats. Each craftsman can make only 3 to 5 of
the very best superfino hats a year. |
" He is the best,” says Singer, “and he will custom-make the special Panama that Hartford York is offering this year.
Working in partnership with Brent Black hat makers in Hawaii, the company that takes the raw hats from Ecuador and shapes, sizes and blocks them to fit each customer, Hartford York is offering a $10,000 Montecristi Masterpiece, which is among the finest ever woven and boasts a toquillo straw “thread” count of 1600 threads per square inch. While the price sounds over the top, it is not unlike a group of Ecuadorian showcase Panamas offered by Dobbs, the Fifth Avenue hat shop, that the The New Yorker discussed in an article in the July 3, 1930 issue.
Singer’s goal is to sell enough $10,000 Montecristi Masterpiece hats to support this dying, indigenous art form and to provide funding for the Montecristi craftsmen so that they can also attract and train a future generation of Panama hat weavers.