When asked to name the key fashion capitals of the world, most people will cite New York, Paris, Milan, and London as the top players. A few may even throw in up and coming locations like Tokyo and Brazil. What many people don’t realize is, while the top talent may come from these countries, designers often find their inspiration from lesser known locations. Drawing on local customs, fabrics, and colors from an exotic locale can help provide the creative direction for an entire season. Looking to these cultures around the world can be an ideal place for new ideas and inspiration on fabrics, colors, shapes, and the combination of textiles.
One of these lesser known fashion gems is Peru. In the past few years Peru has proved that is has a strong voice, with design representatives heading to Paris to showcase their country’s blend of past and present creations. Steeped in a weaving culture stemming back to the days of the Incas, the original Peruvians combined their local customs with the garments of their Spanish conquerors. The dress of the Quechua people today still resembles this merge of cultures, bringing the colors and patterns of the early Incas together with the classic Spanish colonial peasant dress. These traditions were passed down using the Andean custom of verbal instruction, rather than documenting their methods.
Today, the tradition of weaving still survives in Peru. The practice is time consuming and costly, especially in the small indigenous towns of the Andes, where the poverty level is high. Just the weaving alone can range from three weeks to a few months. Before the weaving can even begin however, the thread has to be prepared. The wool for each garment is sheared from the local sheep, llamas, and alpacas, and is then cleaned and spun into a fine thread. To create the iconic Peruvian colors, each spool of thread is dyed using natural ingredients from local plants and minerals. Once these initial steps have been taken to create the perfect consistency and color, the women can then begin to weave the garments.
Quechua clothing has a very distinct look, in terms of color, patterns, and style. There are a few iconic articles of clothing that continue to be worn by locals today. Polleras, or the full skirts that each woman wears is a classic example. These skirts are layered over one another to create a similar effect as a petticoat. On any given day, local Quechua women may be wearing three or four Polleras, and on special occasions, up to fifteen. Another typical style is the Montera, or hat. Like dialects of the same language, each Quechua community has developed their unique styles and customs, and these hats are no exception. You may find some villagers wearing structured, basket style headpieces, attached around the chin with a wide band, but you will also see hats with a circular cushion and a short cloth veil resting just above the eyebrows.
The cloth and weaving traditions of the Incas have remained intact through the years, despite outside influences and deep poverty. While each village continues to add their own personal flavor, the core traditions of the Quechua people is still very much a vibrant thread in Peru’s fashion scene.