|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
sensual glamour of Clark Gable, Sean Connery, and Fred
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.
legend has it, the news photograph of Teddy Roosevelt, perched
on a Panama Canal steam shovel in his Panama hat triggered the fashion
featherweight coolers. Add to those, the images of Winston Churchill,
FDR, and Harry Truman, even Nikita
Kruschev, in their Panamas. And Napoleon
III’s wide-brimmed version. Some of the more recent fans
Sigourney Weaver, Whitney Houston, Charlie Sheen, Steven Tyler,
Jimmy Smits and quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
|Steven Tyler; Sean
Connery; Winston Churchill; Charlton Heston; FDR; Sigourney Weaver.
Of course, Panama hats don’t come from Panama. They got their name,
because Panama was the great trading center, where most of these hats
were bought and sold. Panamas may come in a variety of shapes, often
overlapping other styles, such as the Fedora or Derby, with a variety
of brim widths. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, wore the Optimo style with
its rounded crown and characteristic ridge down the center. Ultimately,
however, the name has come to encompass all woven, light-colored hats
with a dark band at the base of the crown.
and Paul Newman
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. |
Singer himself wears one of his
$1000 Panamas in the classic, pinch-front Fedora style and says the he
sells a lot of $700-$1000 Panamas and has purchased the entire production
of one of the master craftsmen, known as Simon.
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.
article was the inspiration for Singer’s $10,000 Montecristi Panama. “We
have just introduced it and haven’t sold any, yet,” he admits.
But the purpose behind such an extravagant work of art is as philanthropic
as it is commercial.
|JH in Palm Beach
with his version of a Panama hat
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.