Passion Points: Style
“In my family the women have always knit, it’s the way we grew up,” says Lima-native Michelle Peglau, who, along with her mother Elizabeth, started luxury knitwear company—a favorite at the recent Indagare Pop-Up Souk in Chicago—Hortensia Handmade in 2005. Taking inspiration from the stitches passed down from company namesake Great Aunt Hortensia, the collections reveal a contemporary take on traditional Andean designs. “We use many of the stitches from my grandmother and Hortensia’s knitting book,” says Peglau “the pages are filled with their beautiful handwriting and torn-out pictures from old French craft magazines.” Lima-raised but with family roots in France, Peglau is the company’s head designer in New York, while her mother designs and coordinates the team of knitters back in Peru. All life-long craftswomen, they work with rare alpaca wool and cotton to produce the chunky sweaters and fringe scarves entirely by hand.
Fresh from their first Indagare Souk in Chicago last week, and gearin up for the Holiday Souk in New York, Michelle spoke to Indagare about the family business, the importance of “handmade” and shares her favorite parts of Lima and Peru.
How did you come to launch Hortensia Handmade?
My mother contacted me in New York from Lima after she met a very talented knitter named Monica and suggested we start a luxury knitwear company. I was working as a fashion buyer and missed having a creative outlet so thought, Why not? My mother had ambitions to start with a full fashion line, but I steered her toward more simple accessories. At the time some friends were starting a downtown boutique (now the trendy store Oak) and they loved the designs and agreed to sell them. Soon after that we were picked up by Henri Bendel and everything started from there.
Did you have a background in fashion?
My parents ran a denim company while I was growing up and I always wanted to work in design. Lima didn’t have dedicated fashion courses so I worked with a Spanish designer in a more informal way. She helped me prepare for a fashion competition in 1993, which I ultimately won with this crazy colorful dress inspired by all the bright Andean fabrics. The prize was a trip to Colombia to attend a fashion school, so I went and didn’t leave for five years! Colombia is an amazing country with wonderful, hardworking people. It certainly felt like home.
What has surprised you about starting the line and working exclusively by hand?
The company grew quickly, and we soon had twelve knitters working from their homes in Lima. It forced us to produce more and more designs because we wanted these talented craftswomen to produce the collections exclusively for us. It is a lot of work because I also oversee the sales, website, marketing and so much more. Luckily, the collaboration between Monica, my mother and myself is almost telepathic and we have the same affinity for design so generally agree on the aesthetic. The end product has parts of all of us.
Can you tell me more about the charity the company supports, Children of Peru?
A friend introduced me to charity, which is based in New York and sends doctors to villages in Peru, in particular in Cusco, to perform cleft palate and dental surgeries. It’s an amazing charity, and we mostly help through fundraising for their annual trips.
Where do you hope to see the company in the future?
Next season I want to do something more ethnic that represents the colorful indigenous tribes in Peru and elevates that style of design. The Inca style was more monochromatic, so perhaps a mini capsule collection that juxtaposes two distinct Andean styles. That said, I do like that our styles are timeless and elegant and can always be revamped. Some of our most popular designs, like the chuyo hats, are the ones we started with in 2005, which makes sense because they are so wearable and colorful. Working with alpaca wool limits us slightly in terms of color, but we are hoping to develop some new more dramatic colors.
You grew up in Lima, can you share some of your favorite neighborhoods and places?
Miraflores is home but I also like Barranco and less-developed Chorrillos (named for the many waterfalls that once ran along the coast), which has lots of fun restaurants and beach clubs. Since Lima enveloped so many small towns as it grew, there are multiple historic town centers dotted throughout the city, which offer welcome breaks in the busy city.
I shop in the city center markets, especially the Feria Artesanal (also known as the Indian Market), and a beautiful shop, Dédalo, which is housed in an old colonial building showcasing fantastic Peruvian artisans. Or, for great art visit Lucia de la Puente’s beautiful gallery (Paseo Sáenz Peña 206, Barranco; 51 (1) 477-9740). There are so many restaurants, it is almost impossible to pick my favorites, but I would recommend Costanera 700 (Avenida Del Ejército, 421 Miraflores; 51 (1) 421-4635), which is well-known to locals and serves incredible seafood prepared by a Japanese chef; Pescados Capitales for amazing ceviche; Rafael or La Gloria for high-end haute cuisine and Restaurant Huaca Pucllana to experience a breathtaking setting and so-called novo Andina (new Andean) cuisine.
And any recommendations for people traveling further afield in Peru?
Of course I love Cusco and the Inca Trail, although it is so crowded now. Ollantaytambo is very special to me and Paracas near Nazca lines has a good vibe–a little like Puerto Vallarta. Now this is my secret, but for something off the beaten path, Pampas Galeras is a truly spectacular nature reserve 4,000-meters above sea level with the bluest sky you will ever see. Here you can see the famed Vicuñas that produce the rarest wool in the world. A single scarf sells for $10,000, so no, sadly we won’t be working with it!
Hortensia Handmade will be at the Holiday Souk in New York from November 15 – 17 at the Pierre Hotel.
Search By Keyword
An insider's guide to Connecticut's most scenic county.
An insider's guide to Rio. Plus, learn about a family...
New on Indagare
Give the Gift of Indagare The perfect present for travelers: a membership to Indagare. Buy now
Indagare Insider Trips: Cuba, Myanmar and India: We’re planning trips throughout the year. Contact Indagare (212-988-2611) to be added to the wait list.
- Community: Share advice with fellow members asking about your favorite travel discoveries.
- Indagare Insiders: Three-day itineraries for families in London and art lovers in Vienna. Plus, fashion insider Chiara Ferragamo’s picks on what not to miss in Florence, Bonnie Gokson, owner of Hong Kong’s lofty Sevva on Hong Kong, Culinary Insider: Budapest.
- Rant & Rave: Indagare members can share their advice with the community by logging in first, then clicking here: Rants & Raves.
- Give the Gift: Indagare: Give the gift of travel intelligence with a membership to Indagare. For details or to order, call us at 212-988-2611 or click here: Gift Membership.
- Indagare Plus: Remember that hotels marked by an Indagare Plus symbol offer preferential rates and benefits to members.
- Indagare Share Feature: Share articles, postcards and reviews with family and friends on such networking sites as Twitter, Facebook and Delicious. Simply click on the three small dots that symbolize our connect icon, at the end of every article, and follow the link to the networking site of your preference.
- Sample Indagare: With free bi-weekly email blasts on new hot spots and insider tips when you sign up for our mailing list.
- Profile feature: Members share your profiles, comments, favorite articles and IQs. Just click on the Profile tab on the upper right of your screen and look for the Edit My Profile blue tab.
- Indagare means to discover, explore, seek, scout in Latin.