Working Across Hemispheres: Arctic Fibre and Peruvian Weaves

by - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009 Maiwa Textile Symposium

Friday October 23, 2009 at 7pm
Vancouver Museum (MacMillan Space Centre Auditorium)

Fernando Alvarez knows about warm fibres. As a child he accompanied his mother as she went to yarn shops. Luckily for him, in his hometown of Arequipa, Peru, instead of acrylic, there was alpaca, vicuna, guanaco, and merino – the finest and warmest fibres in the world. It was a beginning that would give him the familiarity and knowledge necessary to work with another exotic fibre: qiviuk. Each year, north of the Arctic Circle, the muskox sheds its downy undercoat. This is qiviuk: one-third the weight of cashmere and ten times warmer than wool.

Intrigued, Fernando brought qiviuk out of the arctic and back to Peru where knowledge of traditional spinning and knitting and familiarity with a range of fibres were still very much alive. Even so it took years of trial and error before qiviuk could be spun to knit luxurious and fashionable sweaters and shawls. The very qualities that make qiviuk remarkable (lightness and smoothness) make it extraordinarily difficult to spin.

In this lecture Fernando will present the story of qiviuk and how it has become the centrepiece of his enterprise, Qiviuk Boutique. With locations in Banff, Lake Louise, and now the Plaza in New York, Fernando is as comfortable in the role of international entrepreneur as he is working with knitters and spinners from the high Andes.


Fernando Alvarez is every bit as remarkable as the fibre for which he is rapidly becoming famous. From his quiet childhood in Arequipa, Peru, Alvarez has partnered with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the native authority that governs the northern Canadian Arctic where most of the world’s muskoxen roam. He has also forged ties with Hermes and Valentino (luxury brands who use his qiviuk in their garments) and the Italian clothier Piacenza who produces Fernando’s own line of clothing. The line takes its name from the fibre and is called, simply, “Qiviuk.”

Alvarez works across borders and in many countries. Two of his items, a flowing red shawl and an intricate cable cardigan, were official gifts to Queen Elizabeth II during royal visits. His clothes also have star appeal. Sarah Jessica Parker has been photographed in a favourite cardigan on several occasions. But despite his international connections to the world of high fashion, Alvarez retains deep ties to his Peruvian home where he feels most comfortable. One of his two designers is his mother.

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