The Panama Hat Weavers of MontecristiThe Artistry Behind The Iconic Hat
The Panama hat, as your geography teacher may have taught you, is woven in Ecuador, not Panama despite the curious misnomer. But there are Panama hats and there are Panama hats and for the true aficionado, the hats woven in the lowland Canton of Montecristi represent the very pinnacle of the art.
In an obscure village tucked away in the hills behind Montecristi, a handful of master weavers keep alive the art of weaving the fabulously rare superfino Panama hat – those creamy white, silky fine masterpieces that can have as many as 4000 weaves per square inch and are worth more than their weight in gold.
These are not hats you will ever find in a high street hat shop. They are handled only by a few specialist dealers around the world and can cost thousands of dollars each. But then only a dozen or so of these exquisite Panama hats will be made each year. Each one is a unique treasure. I have been fascinated by the artistry behind these rare hats since I was introduced to it by a good friend of mine, Brent Black, a Panama hatter who has spent more than thirty years hand-blocking these superfine hats.
A few years ago I accompanied him on a buying expedition to Ecuador and shot a series of photographs of Simón Espinal, the weaver widely acknowledged to be the greatest alive, perhaps even the greatest ever. A few years ago I did a story about Simón Espinal and Panama hats for NPR’s Goats & Soda website – you can read it here.