Friday, April 6, 2018

Moving the community along

An early spring wedding in Central Park. Photo: JH.
Friday, April 6, 2018. And the weatherman is predicting we’ll get 1” to 3” inches of snow on Saturday. Yesterday, however, was a bright, beautiful sunny day with a chill wind running through to remind you that Mother Nature isn’t finished with our “winter.”  I put Winter in quotes because it was one of those winters that never took hold but kept trying to act like a winter.
The Michael’s Lunch. JH and I went down to Michael’s to meet and to lunch with Kay Moini and Annie Hurlbut. Neither of us had met Ms. Moini or Ms. Hurlbut before. We had been introduced by a friend of ours, Harry Stendhal, who is the brother of Ms. Moini. I recount these details because this is one of the great advantages of the city. You meet someone through someone you met to discuss ... in this case business ... in this vast society of creative enterprise.

Annie Hurlbut, we soon learned, is the founder (with her mother Biddy) of a retail business called the Peruvian Collection. (Kay is the Vice President of Retail.) Neither JH nor I had ever heard of the Peruvian Connection before also. But not long after our lunch, I learned that many people have heard of the Peruvian Connection, and even have had a long, personal relationship with it.
Annie Hurlbut, DPC, Kay Moini, and JH at Michael's.
We were meeting was to discuss the Peruvian Collection advertising on the NYSD. But we’re always interested in The Story. We learned on meeting that both Moini and Hurlbut are so warm and congenial – the only word for it – and very smart businesswomen (we were not going to be a bored discussing numbers, etc.)

The Story. The Peruvian Connection was launched in 1976 by mother and daughter Hurlbut. It’s fashion retail, but the child of a fascinating venture, an enterprise that arose from the best part of us. 
Annie, age 19, on her first trip to Peru.
Back in the mid-70s, when Annie was 19 and a Yale undergrad, she was in Peru doing anthropological research. On her expedition she fell in love with the extraordinary hand woven mantas and ponchos which she found in the marketplaces of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas.

It was her first encounter with the luxury fiber of alpaca.  “Softer than cashmere” and “more durable.” She was also as in awe of the native women who live high in the mountains in the world of the alpaca, who were making the garments they were selling. Their skills with the fiber made her realize she could sell their product back in the US, and help them earn a living.

Annie with compadres in Cuzco.
Fascinated by the ethnographic textiles, she began collecting them, learning everything about the spinning and dyeing of the fibers, the weaving techniques and the ancient textile traditions of the Andes.

Along the way, Annie also encountered some rather simple but extraordinarily soft and luxurious sweaters, all knit of the same alpaca fibers. One item that caught her eye was a soft alpaca sweater coat, trimmed with long fur. She bought it to take home for her mother’s upcoming 50th birthday.

Back in Kansas, both her mother and her mother’s friends were also amazed with the sweater. It wasn’t long after that the two women Annie and Biddy, embarked on a commercial enterprise that would benefit the Andean woman who were making these pieces. Mother and daughter began importing a small range of sweater styles. Annie designed them, and had them produced in Peru; and Mother sold them home back in Kansas. The Peruvian Connection was born.

The rest is a retail history of progress and even that elusive word “growth.” Initially they sold them to some specialty shops, like Henri Bendel’s here in New York and Halls in Kansas City, and they created a catalog of their time. Annie  did it herself – photography, copy, styling – and Mother packaged and shipped orders.

DPC in his Peruvian Connection alpaca sweater jacket with its creator/enhancer Annie Hurlbut.
Three years after Biddy received her birthday gift, in 1979, Annie was showing the line at a boutique show here in New York, when it caught the eye of a writer with the New York Times. A feature followed in the paper’s Style section – a quarter page article on the front page!  It generated 5,000 catalogue requests within three months.

40 years later the Peruvian Connection releases five new collections every year which are offered on their quarterly catalogues. They are still operating out of the family farm in Tonganoxie, Kansas. Their annual catalogue mailing list numbers several million. And they are on-line as well as in the Peruvian Connection’s seven stores — one of which is on Columbus Avenue and 76th Street here in New York.

There is now a group of what Annie calls “extraordinarily talented designers” creating a wide line of women’s and men’s clothing – a “celebration of ethnographic textiles” made by the skilled artisans of the Andes whom Annie set out to “help” more than forty years ago.

This is what our lunch was like. Kind of a 21st century Horatio Alger story, an artisan’s tale of “rags to riches”.

So we’re sitting there in the metropolitan chattering storm of Wednesdays at Michael’s, listening to a great story of the success of a young anthropologist with an instinct and an idea, fascinated by these gracious but unassuming women achieving several aspect of enterprise and human relations.
Mama and Baby alpacas stand before the beloved Ollie with Ewok close behind. Annie gifted us these little stuffed beauties after lunch. Alpacas graze at elevations of 10,000 to 14,000 feet on the harsh high plains of the Peruvian Andres. Their thick sumptuous coats grow naturally in over 40 shades from ivory to back and every grey and brown shade between.

Contact DPC here.