Annie Hurlbut is an anthropologist who spent her sophomore summer when she was at Yale working at an archeological dig in Peru. There she encountered the alpaca, a cameloid animal related to the vicuña and the llama. Although the alpaca has an unpleasant disposition- it spits at people, she says- it is the mainstay of the economy of the Andes, serving as food and, along with the llama, as beast of burden. That is, it will carry a 50-pound load. "Put 51 pounds on it and it balks," Miss Hurlbut explains.
But the alpaca is raised mainly for its extraordinary wool, which is very lightweight and warm. And since the wool grows naturally in a variety of colors - from white to beige, brown and gray - it is not dyed. Miss Hurlbut returned to Peru again when she was a graduate student in anthropology to do research on a thesis about women who sell in primitive markets. Among their wares were hand loomed alpaca garments, which were warm and practical, but not exactly stylish.
So Miss Hurlbut turned designer. She worked with the Peruvians to give the sweaters more flair, so they would be acceptable to women in North American cities. With her first stock, she returned to the Hurlbut farm in Tonganoxie, Kansas and started a business called The Peruvian Connection, with her mother as partner. They produced a catalog, and Annie Hurlbut brought the sweaters to New York to show them to store buyers. Bendel’s bought them, and so did Sermonetta, the Madison Avenue boutique.
The most popular styles (they will be in stores in late August or September) are a flight-jacket sweater knit of alpaca, with a tuxedo collar of alpaca fur ($130), and a boot-top version that also has the fur around the hem ($175). Miss Hurlbut also imports the Andean padre hat, made of waterproof felt, which she says is the best rain hat in the world. Sermonetta will have it at $35.
What took Miss Hurlbut from a working Kansas farm to Yale? She laughs and explains that her father’s journey had been the other way around. He was a Yalie who met her mother at a New Haven party when she was a student at Finch College, where her Kansas family had sent her to be "finished."
"My mother had happily settled into the Junior League in Connecticut,” Miss Hurlbut related, “and then my father decided he really wanted to be a farmer. So they went back to my grandfather's farm, and there we are, raising corn unprofitably."
The Peruvian collection also includes ponchos, shawls, scarves, other sweaters and alpaca fur hats. A catalog and price list is available from The Peruvian Connection, Canaan Farm, Tonganoxie, Kansas, 66086.