I can’t deny it, without a doubt, my favourite straw to create summer hats from is Panama Straw. Not only do they have an impressive history, but I love that they are still handwoven. The body of them is light yet strong and overall they have an everyday wearable look that continues to be associated with elegance. They are my primary choice. So much so that my Spring Summer Collection is entirely made up of them.
The legacy of Panama Straw dates back to the 1600s. These handwoven gems, produced in Ecuador are made from toquilla straw, belonging to the palm family. The skill that it takes to weave them continues to pass from generation to generation. Panama hats have been exported all over the world, and were highly celebrated in Europe during the Belle Epoque time period. Making them famous by wearers such as Theodore Roosevelt. During the 1940’s they were Ecuador’s number one export.
There are varying grades of panama straw, which is determined by the tightness, and type of weave along with the time spent creating it. Suppleness and colour tone are also a factor in spotting the most elite of panama straw hats. The premium weave is called the montecristi, the finest and most time consuming of woven hats. True expert hands weave them; many of the masters have been weaving hats since childhood.
The weave that I use is called Brisa. It is a simpler weave made by crisscrossing straw to create diamond-shaped squares throughout the hat. These hats are beautifully woven and yet more affordable then the legendary montecristi.
I purchase panama straw in a basic hat body form. It is then up to me to mold the straw over wooden hat blocks, which shapes it into it’s desired and final look. Finishing touches such as ribbon and trims are always added.
Panama straw is a delight to work with, a true pleasure. A material I am grateful to have available as it’s an art onto itself.
My Collection is being featured at East Village Hats in New York and Heart & Sole Too in Victoria, BC.
First 3 photos are from the book, Panama: A Legendary Hat by Assouline
Last 2 photos: Hats made by Tierre, Photos taken by Ramy Arida