March 17, 2013 Carnival

by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman

Many people think of Brazil when they think of Carnival, but actually it is a celebration that occurs all over the world.  Carnival is traditionally a Catholic celebration that coincides with Lent.  Historically, the Catholic Church required all alcohol and rich foods to be discarded during Lent prior to Easter, but instead of simply discarding the alcohol and food, townspeople would gather in large celebrations to enjoy their beverages and eats prior to their 40 days of prohibition.  Today, Carnival is celebrated for more-or-less the same reasons.

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Peru, being a predominately Catholic nation, celebrates Carnival all over the country.  When asked, “What is Carnival?” many Peruvians answer with, “A reason to drink and eat and spend time with friends and family.”

On Carnival, like any good celebration, there is plenty to eat and drink, but it isn’t all about the food and booze.  In fact, in Peru, there are also parades, tree cutting ceremonies, and water.  O, yes!  Water…  A water fight, to be exact.  A country-wide water fight.  This water fight has no age limits, no escape, and no winners.  Everyone becomes some degree of wet.  Weapons include water guns, water balloons, spray bottles, buckets of water, and foam spray.

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In Cusco, the weapon of choice is foam, for its quick drying properties and far dispersal.  The culmination of the battle is in the Plaza de Armas.  Truly, this celebration is for everyone.  Parents teach their children how to fire foam aerosol cans, and complete strangers bond by dousing each other in water or foam.  The only rule is: don’t douse your same gender.  Some people may think that they don’t want to participate or get wet, but, the reality is, everyone enjoys themselves.  Getting sprayed and getting wet are just part of the fun.

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In the afternoon, after the water fight has calmed and the sun begins to set, neighbors gather together to take part in a yunsa celebration.  A yunsa is the tree cutting ceremony.  A tree is decorated with ribbons, blankets, plastic containers, tires, balloons, clothes, toys, and other prizes.  Then, people dance around the tree in a circle, drinking and chatting, and couples take turns attempting to chop down the tree with an axe.  This goes on for hours, because each person is only allowed three swings at a time.  Once the tree actually falls, everyone scrambles to claim their prize, like with a piñata.  The couple that eventually strikes down the tree becomes responsible for getting the celebration ready the following year.

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Long into the night of Carnival, even after the water fight has ended and the tree has fallen, families and friends dance and eat and drink and simply enjoy each other’s company.  As far as celebrations go, what more could one want?

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March 11, 2013 The Horses of Camargue

Our Spring catalog equine model, “Mister”, was not only a wonderful sport by patiently posing for us, but also a great ambassador for his breed, the Camargue horse.  Mister was one of the renowned white horses of Camargue, romanticized by imagery of the region, depicting herds of them galloping through the marshlands of southern France.

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Mister on the beach at Saintes Maries de la Mer

The Camargue horse is also known as “the horse of the sea” due to its native environment of France’s Rhone delta.  Its origins are generally unknown, but it is thought to be one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world. For hundreds or even thousands of years, these horses have lived wild in the Camargue wetlands.

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Trailriding through the Camargue marshlands

Adult Camargue horses appear white but are considered gray, meaning that they have black skin underlying a white hair coat. As foals, their coat is black or dark brown, but as they mature their coat becomes increasingly intermingled with white hairs. They are relatively small horses, usually 13.1–14.3 hands at the withers (4 ½-5 feet tall at the shoulder), yet they have the strength to carry an adult rider. They have a short neck, deep chest, compact body, strong limbs and a full mane and tail. Their hooves are tough and wide, well acclimated to the marshy terrain.

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A Camargue yearling, before its coat has started to change from brown to white

Camargue horses are known for their intelligence, stamina, hardiness and agility, traits developed over centuries of living under semi-feral conditions in a harsh environment. The calm temperament and athleticism of the Camargue horse has made it a popular choice for equestrian games, dressage, and long distance riding.  It is the traditional mount of the gardians, the Camargue “cowboys” who herd the black Camargue cattle. The gardians tend to the horses, with annual roundups for health inspections, branding, and gelding.

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Camargue mares grazing in the wild marshes of the Rhone delta

The Camargue breed was recognized and promoted by Julius Caesar, and was recruited by Napoleon for use by his army.  Camargue horses went to battle overseas as well, and were thought to first come to the Americas as warhorses, where hardiness and a calm temperament were required.  They were put to work again around 1865 during the construction of the Suez Canal.  In 1978, the French government began registering the Camargue horse breed, requiring foals to be born out of doors and seen to suckle from a registered mare as proof of parentage.

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Mister shares the spotlight

On the beach near Saintes Maries de la Mer, southern France, modeling the Camargue Cardigan.

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February 25, 2013 Ancient Textile Traditions of Chinchero

by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman

Chinchero is a small village in Peru, located in the departamento (state) of Cusco but it is about 28 kilometers (17 miles) northwest of the city of Cusco.  The village gets quite a bit of traffic flowing through it because of its close proximity to Cusco, the archeological site located there, and the beautiful handmade textiles made by the villagers.  Many people, tourists and otherwise, marvel at the textiles, but sadly, many never come to fully appreciate the process by which they are made.

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Hand-dyed and handwoven mantas in an array of colors and patterns.

It all starts with animals.  Sheep and alpaca are raised and tended to throughout the year; they are sheared usually just once a year.  This provides the raw material with which this process begins: dirty wool filled with pieces of earth and twigs.  To clean the wool, women wash it with a root from the jabonera (soapwort) plant.  This root is a natural detergent which creates a lather and removes the dirt.  Interestingly, it is this same root which the people use as shampoo to wash their own hair.

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Jabonera Root, used to wash wool. 'Jabon' means soap in Spanish.

Once washed, the wool is ready to spin.  They use a drop-spindle, or pushka, allowing the spinner to walk or do other activities and spin at the same time.  The wool is spun into simple 1-ply yarn.  At this stage, it is time for dyeing.

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Spinning using the drop-spindle, pushka, to ply the already dyed yarn.

All dyes used are 100% natural and hand-gathered.  Leaves, bark, moss, corn, flowers, and seeds are all used to make varying shades of different colors.  For red colors, pigment from cochineal is used, extracted from a small beetle which lives on the prickly pear cactus.  The beetle’s raw pigment also serves as women’s lipstick and rouge.

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Cochineal insects; crushed cochineal; wool being dyed with cochineal.

The dyes are added to boiling water, and then the single-ply yarn is added to the pot.   The time left in the pot depends on the intensity of the desired color.  For a mordant, to hold the color, they use collpa, a mineral found in the jungle.

Once the yarn is dyed, it is rinsed and hung to dry.  Then, the yarn is spun again to ply it.  A slightly larger drop-spindle is used to make the yarn 2-ply or 3-ply, thus stronger and able to be woven.

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Varying shades from natural dyes. Greens & blues: leaves, purples: purple corn, oranges: 'beard of the rock' moss, yellows: seeds & flowers.

To weave the yarn, they used a back-strap loom, which is simply straps, strings, and sticks fashioned together.  Tools used in the weaving process are bones and sticks.  Weaving an entire loom takes at least two months of solid weaving.  The people of Chinchero make designs in their weavings specific to Chinchero.  While other villages around Peru use the same techniques to make yarn and weave, the designs imprinted in the textiles are specific to the location where they were woven.  An outsider may not be able to recognize the subtle differences in designs, but the people of the Andes can pinpoint where someone is from simply by the designs in their clothing and textiles.

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Woman weaving with back-strap loom.

The final products consist of shawls, skirts, scarves, belts, ponchos, table runners, bags, coin purses, and much more.  All are stunning and beautiful, but perhaps the most stunning of all is the physical effort and craftsmanship that goes into making those products.

Weaving is not a simple weekend craft for the people of Chinchero.  It is definitely a long, delicate process.  At the same time, it is much more than that.  Weaving is a living testament to their heritage, proof of their workmanship, and their livelihood.

See Peruvian Connection’s handwoven textiles for Spring 2013:
Kenko Pima Belt
Ocongate Pima Belt
Tarma Wrap Bracelet

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February 20, 2013 Inside the Spring 2013 Photo Shoot

For our spring 2013 photo shoot, we traveled to the romantic cobblestoned villages of Southern France, punctuated by the rocky Alpilles mountain range and the sparkling Côte D’Azur shoreline. From the ochre painted canyons of Roussillon to the mirrored canals of Martigues, we were dazzled by the quiet grandeur and rich histories surrounding our every step.

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Sailboats lining the canal in Martigues

Famous for their unbeatable pigments in every shade of rusty ochre and mineral blue, the colorful village of Roussillon was a gorgeous backdrop for our collection. This unique village spirals up a steep canyon, striped in a rich ochre palette. This same pigmented stone is used to build the tile-roofed homes that are characteristically colorful. According to the “official” record, the layers of ochre exist because Roussillon was at the bottom of the sea millions of years ago. The specific ochre coloration is caused by the mineral goethite (named after the German writer Goethe, who was also an avid mineralogist). But local legend tells a far more intriguing story…

In this version, a tragic love affair brought about the rich coloration of the town. The story takes place in the Middle Ages and centers upon Sermonde, the young wife of Raymond d’Avignon, the lord of Roussillon. Since Raymond spent most of his time away hunting, the lonely Sermonde fell in love with a local troubadour (a poet-musician). When Raymond learned about her infidelity, he secretly cut the troubadour’s heart out and served it to Sermonde for dinner. Upon finishing her meal, Raymond revealed how she was truly “heart to heart” with her lover now. Unable to handle this horrific truth, Sermonde threw herself from the top of the village and fell to her untimely death. From that point on, her red blood has run through Roussillon.

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Richly colored ochre cliffs of Roussillon

The historic Château de Roussan was another location that teemed with rumors and local legends. Nestled in the heart of Saint Rémy de Provence, the Château provided a dreamy, fairy-tale setting, with looming plane trees lining the walkways, beautiful carved wood doors and museum-worthy relics housed inside. This early 18th-century mansion was once the “treasured love” of Nostradamus’ brother, Sir Bertrand de Nostredame. The beloved mansion was a grand inheritance, housing generation after generation, successively enriching its history. One such rumor-laden owner was Lady Diane, known as the “Belle de Provence.” It was well known that she had caught the attention of King Louis XIV, after attending one of his balls with Mme de Sévigné. It’s rumored that he even stayed at the Château on more than one occasion (and this was before it was a hotel)! Now a functioning hotel, the Château is filled with unbelievably rare antiques, including original prints by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and hand-carved chinoiserie cabinets made with real ivory. The place was filled with surprises!

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Shooting the Tribal Tank Dress on the terrace of the Château de Roussan.

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Chapelle Saint-Sixte d'Eygalières, near St. Rémy

The colorful pastoral landscapes that inspired our spring shoot had also been a major source of inspiration for Van Gogh, who moved to Provençe in early 1888. Although his time was short in the region, he manically produced over 300 works around St. Rémy, portraying local churches, harvests, windmills, the Alpilles mountain range and the simplicities of country life. His time in Provençe was famously disturbing, as his psychological instability grew worse and worse—culminating in late 1888 when he cut off his own ear after a violent dispute with his painter friend Gauguin (who had moved to the region that same year to work with Van Gogh). Following this meltdown, Van Gogh checked himself into the Saint Paul de Mausole asylum near St. Rémy, where he lived for a year. If you visit this region, you can see the exact places where Van Gogh created some of his most renowned paintings, such as The Evening Café, Starry Night, The Old Windmill and The Hospital Garden. You can even see some of these landmarks in our photos!

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Smooth-as-glass waters of the 'Le Miroir aux oiseaux' (Mirror Bird) area

We also basked under the warm sun in Martigues, capturing the charm of its boat-lined canals and softly colored stucco homes. The placid waters of the canals shined like mirrors, inspiring the front cover shot of our Alençon Sheath. Nicknamed the “Venice of Provence,” this relaxing town was a perfect backdrop for our new sundresses! As I look back on these sun-drenched days filled with the carefree spirit of France, I can’t help but get excited for warmer spring days (and a wardrobe change)!

Take a peek behind-the-scenes with our Spring 2013 video

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February 14, 2013 Stitches in the Air

We love lace at Peruvian Connection. Nowadays, it evokes a slower, more romantic time, but when Queen Elizabeth I initially fell in love with lace, wearing it became a sign of great wealth and power for both men and women.  Lace had an enormous resurgence in popularity during Victorian times with the advent of machine-made lace, remaining popular until the 1930’s. In the last few years lace has become a staple of many runway collections and remains an incredibly strong trend, from the most innocent and romantic dresses to the sexiest underpinnings. Even the smallest touch makes the simplest garment more feminine and beautiful.

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Lace mood board for spring 2013

We appreciate the skill and craftsmanship that went into handmade laces: it took literally hundreds of hours to create fabrics and edgings that were truly luxurious, decadent and purely decorative. While net and gauze were produced in pre-Columbian Peru, what
we now call lace probably originated in Italy from hand-embroidery techniques, especially cutwork, eventually evolving into a fabric created by working onto a foundation of threads couched onto paper, called Punto de Aria (literally… stitches in the air) in Italy.

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Vintage hand knitted cotton lace.

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Detail of panel of fine Vintage Irish Crochet Collar.

We are particularly fond of knitted lace because of its lightness and drape. Knitted lace was thought to have originated in Spain, with knitting exchanged by Arab traders. The Spanish method was later adopted in the Shetland Isles, where incredibly fine lace shawls were made relatively recently, starting in the 19th century.  The first knitted lace shawls were crafted over 300 years ago in the Orenburg region of Russia. Haapsalu in Estonia began its tradition of knitted lace shawls about 100 years later.  Each region has its
own patterns and techniques that identify its providence.

Crochet lace was thought to have begun at about the same time and originated from Tambour work.

Today we work collaboratively with highly skilled craftspeople to create unique ways to reinterpret vintage laces into beautiful and wearable art pieces. It can start with a tiny floral shape in an Irish crochet panel or a gorgeous vintage lace dress, but the same techniques are used to create each garment stitch by stitch, as crochet can only be made by hand.

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We adore these old laces especially because of their rich history. Even the smallest lengths that have been saved and carefully wrapped around browned paper, or panels stored in tissue paper bundles have a unique character. The subtlety of the shades of white, yellow and cream seems to imbue them with quiet beauty.  These fragments seem more romantic because of their fragility, and the discovery of an old box of lace was our favorite inspiration for this season.

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A treasure box of inspiration.

By looking back at the historical references for techniques and pattern inspiration and then blending these with trend appropriate, yet classical silhouettes in beautiful luxurious yarns, we hope to continue the tradition of creating future heirlooms.
Highlights of Peruvian Connection’s Lace Collection for Spring 2013:

Heirloom Lace Top

Nikki Lace Cardigan

Ginevra Lace Dress

Arianne Lace Dress

Belle du Jour Sheath

Starflower Dress

Antibes Lace Pullover

Corsica Pullover

Manon Tunic

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