The timelessness of Panama hats is well-earned; after becoming popular in the early 1900s, something about the hat captured the lasting attention of people around the world. Today, Panama hats have become an accessory in a category all their own. While Panama hats have a rich history of tradition and craftsmanship, their presence is not often felt in the luxury market. Legend of Panama is here to change that.
Offering an assortment of styles for an endless range of occasions, Legend of Panama aims to bring the passion of Ecuadorian craftsmen into the hands of high-end consumers across the globe. With a highly-monitored quality control system and operations in both Europe and Ecuador, Legend of Panama has its sights set on becoming the leading voice in the world of luxury Panama hats. Schön! spoke exclusively to the brand to hear more.
How did Legend of Panama begin?
Legend of Panama founders Gregoire Schmidt and Nathanaël Bonvin are both successful Swiss entrepreneurs who have always been interested in travelling and purchasing unique luxury products from the destinations they’ve visited. They had the opportunity to visit Ecuador and to meet people that were in the hat business there, [and] they were instantly captivated by the traditions and the people behind the process of making a Panama hat. They believe that this unique savoir-faire must have a special place in the world; that’s why they wanted to create a luxury hat brand that unites luxury and tradition.
Tell us about your three collections: Ladies and Gentlemen, Weddings and Parties and Special Events.
Legend of Panama has a selection of hats for different occasions so our clients can easily find the hat they are looking for. The Ladies and Gentlemen Collection reunites hats for both women and men that can be worn in summer while travelling or simply combined with everyday outfits. The Wedding and Parties Collection compiles very feminine hats that are perfect for attending weddings, parties and other exclusive events. Finally, the Special Events Collection was created for attending cultural events or sport-related events. This hat selection is ideal for tennis, golf, and polo lovers.
What sets Legend of Panama apart from other Panama hat manufacturers and distributors?
Legend of Panama sells the finest hats in the world. We work only with the best manufacturers and suppliers to obtain unique, beautiful, and high-quality products. It takes months for craftsmen to finish only one of our hats. Some very exclusive Montecristi Panama hats can take 1000 hours of work and can be sold at 25.000 or more.
We also have a Charter of Ethics that includes social, environmental and economic issues; all of our suppliers must sign this Charter and engage to fully respect it. All of our hats have a lifetime warranty — Legend of Panama is the only hat brand that offers this — and we produce a limited series of each model. All of our hats are 100% made in Ecuador. That’s what sets us apart from other brands that make their hats in Europe or somewhere else.
As an international brand, how do you maintain a connection with Ecuador, both the place and the tradition from which these hats emerged?
Actually, we have an Operating and Design Team based in Ecuador, and we communicate with them every day. That allows us to have a better understanding of the traditions, the people, and the country. Gregoire stayed for a long time in that beautiful country to develop the local infrastructure that includes three different departments: R&D, Design and Production, so he knows very well the process of making Panama hats, the culture and the challenges. We are also committed to promoting Ecuadorian talent; we have met people with incredible potential in that country, so we want to give them the opportunity to collaborate with an international brand.
We work closely with artists, photographers, models, make-up artists, hairstylists, filmmakers, stylists and designers from Ecuador.
What does quality control for Legend of Panama look like?
Quality control is one of the most important processes for Legend of Panama. Our Ecuadorian Operations Director personally checks, one by one, the hats once they are ready. Sometimes it can be very challenging because Panama hats are handmade products and our expectations are very high. We apply quality norms based on Swiss standards throughout the whole process. We control the following elements: quality of the weave, colour, shape, brim, rigidity and finishing details. If there is a problem with one of the hats, it has to be fixed before the shipment; if the problem cannot be fixed, the hat gets rejected. We also control the packaging process; Panama hats are very delicate, so they need to be packed correctly in order to keep their shape.
What can you tell us about Mao Reyes, your Ecuadorian designer?
When we first met Mao, we were looking for a fashion photographer. Soon we discovered that he had multiple talents, and we engaged him as a designer as well. He did our entire brand image and designed the accessories and complements for the hats. He’s a creative mind with no boundaries, and he has a unique sense of aesthetics.
Why do you think the Panama hat has made such a lasting impact outside of Ecuador?
Panama hats have an incredible story and heritage; they were created by South American natives to protect their skin from the sun, and they got popular during the construction of the Panama Canal. Soon, personalities and celebrities worldwide started to wear them, and they have become objects of desire ever since. The expert hands of specialised craftsmen and their light and versatile material offer endless creative possibilities. That’s why Panama hats will never go out of style — they are timeless.
Mao, as the designer, when and why did you begin producing Panama hats?
We started this process in 2018 with a solid investigation of Panama hat weaving. The next step was to develop a close collaboration with the best Ecuadorian craftsmen based in the cities of Cuenca and Montecristi. They provide us with an exclusive, luxury product to satisfy our most exigent clients.
How do those cities — Cuenca and Montecristi — inspire your work?
Ecuador is a South American country with diverse characteristics. The fact that Ecuador is located in both hemispheres offers us a broad spectrum of craftsmanship possibilities, especially in the Panama hat weaving tradition. Each hat is inspired by the personal essence of the craftsman that weaves it. The result is a high fashion piece that can be considered a work of art and a unique luxury item that passes through eight different manual processes before getting its final shape.
What is next for Legend of Panama?
Right now we are working on our future collections… We are constructing and developing an international brand. One of our goals is to develop strategic partnerships — collaborations with Haute Couture houses, for example. We are looking forward to expanding Legend of Panama to other countries in Europe but also outside Europe, especially in Asia. Our dream is that this beautiful savoir-faire will finally get the acknowledgement it deserves worldwide.
made by. Mateo García Game
models. Ana María Weir, Valentin Maston, Denisse Vegas + Cristopher Ponton
fashion. Eric Hortense and Ana Sofia Arias
hats. Legend of Panama
hair. Maira Veintimilla
make up. Priscila Alvarado
words. Braden Bjella