NEW YORK – The response last week to Peruvian Connection’s soft opening at 341 Columbus Avenue surprised the store’s founder, Annie Hurlbut.
“It’s been a remarkable first few days. The sheer number of people — sometimes 300 to 400 — in the course of a morning came into the store,” Hurlbut said of the flagship, which is the company’s first location in Manhattan and seventh unit worldwide.
“The Upper West Side is perfect for our brand,” Hurlbut said, adding, “[The population] is multicultural and eclectic in its tastes and travels a great deal. So many creative people are our customers. We’ve always known that. People want to express themselves, not with a label, but with a look.”
Peruvian Connection is offering lots of basic black in deference to Manhattan tastes and classic items such as the alpaca and wool blend Decades coat, priced at $798. But it’s the garments with arty and folkloric patterns and prints that keep customers coming back, Hurlbut said.
Andean manta stripes appear on a faux-wrap skirt, and an Altiplano poncho, $218 each. There is a long coat with graphic diamonds influenced by a Malian mud cloth, $498, and a navy Laplander knit coat embroidered with bright red, orange, yellow and white stripes, $249. Hand-crocheted sweaters with intricate stitches are made by cooperatives of skilled Peruvian women and retail for $450.
Peruvian Connection operates stores in Kansas City, Boston, Chicago, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and London. With half its business coming from Europe, Hurlbut is eyeing markets such as Edinburgh, Hamburg, Munich, and Paris “way down the road,” she said.
Hurlbut in 1976 founded Peruvian Connection “almost by accident,” she said. When she was 19 years old and studying anthropology at Yale, she visited Peru and fell in love with the woven items she saw in the markets of Cuzco. She bought an alpaca sweater for her mother’s 50th birthday. Soon after, they started importing sweaters that Hurlbut designed herself. The sweaters were sold initially by catalogue and at Halls in Kansas City and Henri Bendel in Manhattan. The company operates an e-commerce site and publishes five catalogues a year, shot all over the world.
“I had no background in this at all,” Hurlbut said.
Andean artisans make many of the products including Pima cotton basics and alpaca sweaters and coats. Many items are Peruvian-inspired, but the most popular skirt this season, for example, is based on a Philippine textile. Tailored pieces are manufactured in Manhattan. “We do a ton of stuff in New York,” Hurlbut said. “But I’m not going to leave Peru.”
The company this year added leather shoes and boots made in Tuscany to its assortment and has a partnership with the textile designer Kaffe Fassett, who combines colors, patterns and textures in his work.
Hurlbut sources the furniture, antique trunks, armoires and art for the stores, looking for “things that have meaning, like old photographs.”
She runs Peruvian Connection from a farm in Tonganoxie, Kan., that’s been in her family since 1919. “My grandmother helped take orders when we started,” she said. “We have a refurbished old barn and prefab building and a three-acre garden.”