I had received a phone call from Harry Rosenholtz, the owner of Worth & Worth at the time. He called to inquire about some new designs for his hat company. We met at my old loft in hell's kitchen. At the time I was influenced by the surrealists and had fabricated hatstands that resembled giant bent nails, and I had them coming out of the walls and the floor. The room was painted in stark white and we had stenciled large black and red ants forming a series of trails through the room.
Harry seemed curious and we sat down to get to know each other. Things between us clicked and we began working together. We had a very good first season and found we had a lot in common. So, Harry invited me over to have dinner with him and his family. He had a wall of vinyl and played some groovy Brazilian jazz. I met his wife Heidi and his two sons, Sam and Josh.
Over dinner Heidi politely asked me about my background and when she heard of my Nicaraguan roots she suggested I accompany Harry and his VP Mark Baum on their first buying trip to Ecuador.
Harry and Mark were going to Ecuador to search of the legendary Montecristi Panama hat weavers. A few days later I was on my way with the boys to Ecuador. We arrived in Guayaquil. It was raining; we picked up our rental car, a map and exchange money. I drove. Mark and Harry had done some preliminary research on the villages where the hats were woven.
Our first stop was Jipijapa, a dusty, quiet town we would have missed if we blinked or sneezed. We stopped at a natural juice stand and inquired about the hats. The shopkeeper explained to us the hats hadn't been woven there since the 1960's. So we proceeded on our quest, about an hour or more on a two lane highway until we saw a dilapidated road sign indicating the town of Montecristi a few kilometers ahead.
Harry and Mark were as anxious as young school girls. We pulled into this bustling town with street vendors, cyclists, open street kitchens -- and hats for sale everywhere. It was an election year
and all over the town the candidates had painted large lettering with their names and party affiliations. When we stopped it was obvious we were here for hats, and we were swarmed like bees to honey.
Harry, knowing the quality of the hats he wanted, knew these weren't the ones he had been seeking. But we knew that they had to be in this town, maybe on a back street somewhere.
So we drove up the hill towards the church, and along the way I noticed the signage for a certain candidate, Rafael Ruiz Palacios, which happened to be my grandfather's name.
So when we stopped at the hat shop to inquire about the weavers, I introduced myself as Orlando Palacios. The shopkeeper asked if I was any relation to Rafael Ruiz Palacios. I answered, "yes, he is my grandfather”. And it was as if I held the golden key to the pearly gates of heaven.
The shopkeeper closed his shop and personally walked us over to the main commissioner. "Don Rosendo Delgado." We were introduced and I explained that my grandfather's name was indeed "Rafael Ruiz Palacios," but he lived in Nicaragua and this was a small misunderstanding. He laughed and invited us in. We walked into a large salon and there were weavers around the perimeter finishing hats. Harry knew we had the mother load and we began our long and prosperous friendship with Don Rosendo.