Did you ride llamas to school?
When Neil Gayoso, founder of LAMA, used to live in the States as a teenager, he often had to tell people he had never rode a llama. He couldn’t explain why they were all asking but he would answer in good humour, maybe wondering how the animal had become a representation of a country that had picked the vicuña as a national symbol instead. As it happens to many countries in the world, the image foreigners have of Peru sometimes is no more than pure fiction. The real trouble begins when, as Neil realized when starting his brand, the people of the country don’t know their own wealth.
Ten years have passed since he designed his first collection (a bunch of t-shirts he sold among his friends) and a lot has changed, especially as locally made fashion starts to flourish. However, we are still facing some trouble while growing: “Peru produces one of the finest cotton threads in the world if not the finest, but ten years ago there was not a single Peruvian designer or brand using it. Today we are still the only ones on this level of quality and production,” he explains. The brand was built on dreamy cotton and an original graphic style, main principles that survive today as an unmovable mantra: premium quality, both in fabric and design, at an affordable price for the middle class Limeñean.
(Photo: Erick Andia)
Although the core remains, LAMA is a whole different business from that t-shirt adventure. Five years ago two major changes happened. Neil decided it was time to have a store of his own (he was selling privately and at some fashion stores), and designer Sara Vilchez joined the team. Fashion designer by trade and inheritance, as her parents used to have one of Lima’s first proper fashion stores, Sara is responsible of developing LAMA’s women’s line as well as the new complexity offered in the men’s department. With customers that are basically a fan base and surrounded by the happy consumers of a growing economy, now they have two main stores (one that is also a coffee shop), sell in a variety of boutiques, and have their own art gallery. LAMA is a fashion brand going beyond fashion while keeping the style.
(Photo: Erick Andia)
COFFEE IN MARSANO
Boulevar Marsano is the fashion street that could have been, and that could still be. Designer Sergio Davila started it as a project to open to both tourists and locals another part of Miraflores. Just a couple of blocks from Parque Kennedy, it was thought as a whole street of design made in Lima. As the fashion market faces ups and downs, LAMA is the only brand still standing in place but it is also the one keeping up the hopes for the beautiful and slightly unknown part of the district.
First, their fashion store, much like the one they have in the Huaca Pucllana Independent Fashion Market, is almost a work of art, with a style curated by Neil and reflecting exactly in what spirit their designs are made. The main difference is the inclusion of Lama Espresso Bar, a coffee shop: while hot beverages are made, the clothes cool Limeñeans want are sold.
“We started the coffee shop because with coffee the principle is the same as with cotton,” Neil explains, “we have a national production of premium quality, but the most of it goes abroad and we, in Lima, end up consuming imported one of less quality.” The importance of coffee, however, is not a matter of nationalism, as it is the main alternative to coca producers: farm people in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest can choose to stop growing coca (raw material for cocaine) and still make a living thanks to coffee production. A whole chain of win- win situations.
(Photo: Erick Andia)
ART IN MARSANO
After other stores started to move or close, there was a special opening in the art deco building were Boulevar Marsano was planned. Neil and Sara had already hosted a couple of art shows in their stores and in some of the boutiques were they sold LAMA, and somehow having their own art gallery just made sense. The space was there, a few steps from the café, all in a beautiful old building.
Paraiso Galería is now facing the complications of the national art market and, as everything LAMA does, is creating a new space where things were stale. “We wanted to create a place for uprising artists. For those who have the talent and the work discipline to handle having a show of their own, but who, at the same time, are not yet admitted in the traditional galleries”, explains Sara. They started with a small list of artists they both admired, and ended up with hundreds of emails from all over. Now the gallery is booked until the end of the year, and hosting both national and international talent.
LAMA invests around 300% more in quality than any other Peruvian brand working with cotton, in a country where every designer complains about costumers still valuing a cheap price over good quality; and they are succeeding. Their café/concept store is in one of the less visited areas of the most popular district in Lima, and it is always crowded. In a city with a very small art market, they are showing new talent and helping create a whole new generation of collectors. And it is all linked by a love of what Peru has to offer. “It is time for us to stop just sending all raw material abroad. We need to create brands and places, a design of our own, and enjoy what our own country can offer us,” concludes Sara.
Jr. Gonzales Prada 381, Miraflores
Jr. Gonzales Prada 325, Miraflores