Hats off to Orlando!

by Dorothea

A 25 000 dollar Panama hat anyone?

mylesHatMy late friend Myles’ “Super Fino” Panama hat

You heard that right, I got that price straight from the elegant and knowledgable hat maker extraordinaire, Orlando Palacios, owner of Worth & Worth in New York.

FitzcarraldoKlaus Kinski holding a Panama hat in Werner Herzog’s epic 1982 movie “Fitzcarraldo”

And why, would you ask, such an exorbitant price for a mere hat? The answer is simple: only a hand full of people can still weave a “Super Fino” Montecristi straw hat – rarer than a perfect diamond and infinitely more refined – a product of centuries of craftsmanship.

Guess who’s Panama hat is pictured here:

napoleon 2A very famous Frenchman’s hat – see the end of the blog to find out who…

When I stopped in on my friend Orlando’s store cum atelier cum “Salon” for hat affectionados , I got a lecture on all things Panama hats! 

First on all, the hats are made in Equador not Panama. Orlando buys different quality weaves directly from the artisans in their basic shape then customizes them for each client. In the highest quality weave, the “Super Fino”, he only brings as few as five per year to New York.

hands-weaving-panama-hat 2The hats are woven from long thin strands of straw that the weaver splits over and over again with his super sharp thumbnail.

These hats are truly rarer than rare and Orlando has built up a more than 20 year intimate bond with those weavers in Equador – a bond based on loyalty, appreciation, friendship and trust.

Panama hats were very sought after by royalty, aristocrats and the “Beau Monde” of the 19th and most of the 20th century; light, elegant and remarkably resilient, they can be repaired and reshaped. Worn formal or casual, like below, these hats are timeless and always appropriate.

Vintagehat 2Alberto Santos Dumont, pioneering aviator – 1906 – from Assouline’s book “Panama”

Secondly, the Super Fino is measured by rows of weave per linear inch: between 32 and 38. That is over 900 strands per square inch and much like an Oriental carpet (the more knots per inch, the rarer and more valuable the carpet) the more strands, the more valuable. It can take a weaver a year to weave one hat!

WeaveThe initial stage of the weaving process: the crown of a Panama

Recently, Orlando sold his rarest Super Fino for 25 000 dollars to a client, it had 42 strands per inch. To his surprise, the client then sold it for a whopper 100 000 dollars!

Orlando showed me a marvelous vintage hat he bought from someone who found it amongst his grandfather’s affairs. The hat dated from 1928 and had it’s original stenciled label inside and the price in pencil: 18 dollars, an insane amount of money then, roughly the equivalent of 3 000 dollars today:

MontecristiInside of the crown of a “Super Fino” from 1928 – Orlando’s personal collection

We discussed how this ultra rare craft should be not only protected but about ways to encourage new weavers to take on this unbelievably painstaking labour. I suggested that they should be sold at source by auction – these crafts should be protected by UNESCO! Yet another project for me to take on…

Orlando let me have a good peek in his atelier, with the wooden hat forms and other-worldly machinery for shaping the different materials that the hats are made from.

AtelierOrlando’s atelier

Orlando and his charming wife Shirly are on hand to help customers – who immediately become friends – finding the perfect hat, from debonair felt trilby’s to large fedora’s. Each hat is custom fitted and finished with the ribbon of your choice.

OrlandoOrlando in his store, holding the “Super Fino” from 1928

My friend Marilyn and her late husband Myles were amongst Orlando’s first loyal customers and now Orlando is reshaping some of Myles’ hats for Marilyn, as their styles are completely unisex!

mylesThe ever dapper Myles on a stroll with his granddaughter Sabrina

There are hats at Worth & Worth for every purse, culminating in those very rare Super Fino’s! So if you have that kind of moolah, run to Worth & Worth and reserve a Montecristi now, Orlando takes orders only once a year! But: a beautiful Super Fino will last you a lifetime.

happyMyles and Marilyn sporting their Panama hats with Sabrina!

Worth & Worth is located at 45 West 57th Street on the 6th Floor, between 5th and 6th avenue in New York, if you want to see Orlando or Shirly, call ahead, they are much in demand! Or click on the link, there is a great collection for sale online.

Lastly, I can not resist putting this photograph in it’s entirety to end my post: a coat, a cane and a Panama hat – a style that would look as good today as it did on Napoleon Bonaparte in exile on St. Helena in 1815 – whose these are!

napoleonNapoleon Bonaparte’s coat, cane and Panama hat – photograph from the Bibliotheque Nationale – France

Read everything about these hats in the brilliant Assouline book, in which you will find many photographs of Orlando!