Across the globe, people wear hats as a cultural signifier, a style statement, or simply as a practical measure to stave off the sun. In Central America, brimmed hats are a traditional part of one’s wardrobe, as exemplified by Ecuadorian artisan Valentin Alarcon. For decades, Alarcon has used locally harvested straw to craft durable and elegant hats. His workshop in coastal Ecuador is dedicated to preserving ancient techniques that are timelessly, effortlessly wearable.
The process of making a traditional Ecuadorian hat is time-consuming. First, straw is gathered from mountainous regions, picked while still in shoot form. Raw material is brought back to the workshop, where it is split and boiled, then dried and separated according to size and quality. Everything Alarcon does is achieved carefully by hand, but the creative juices really start flowing when prepared straw is ironed and shaped into a hat using a range of traditional tools and methods. Alarcon is set apart from other practitioners of this technique: not only are his hats supremely well-designed, but they come in a range of vibrant colors, from royal purple to verdant emerald.
Hat-making goes back to pre-Spanish times in this and other parts of Central America. Very little, in fact, has changed from generation to generation of proprietors of this specialized, unique art form; perhaps that’s why the immediately recognizable, effortlessly distinguished Panama Hat is known the world over. As a master of the craft, Valentin Alarcon has taught workshops internationally and has received numerous regional and global accolades.