Hats made from toquilla straw, which comes from the Carludovica palmata plant in South America, predate the Spanish Conquest of the 16th century. The hats were named Panamas in the mid-1800s by American gold miners, after the famed Panama street markets from which they were imported.
In an effort to preserve and enhance this historical legacy, Santiago Vega, a third-generation Ecuadorian hatmaker, launched Vizcaya (+593.2.256.2773) three years ago. The company is based in Quito, Ecuador, a country that, according to Vega, counts nearly 250,000 weavers among its population. It is also where the majority of the toquilla straw is grown.
“I call my sense of style sober luxe,” he says of Vizcaya’s ultraelegant Collection Uno, which includes more contemporary oval shapes, flat and rolled brims, and flexible textures than the ordinary straw hat mix. It also produces its own Montecristi fino and Montecristi super fino hats, which come in their own wooden boxes complete with certificates of authenticity.
It is possible to assess the quality of Vizcaya’s hats by counting the vueltas, or circles, of straw, says Vega, whose products are so finely woven that many could hold water.