APEC Leaders Don Andean Ponchos for Group Photo

November 24, 2008 - 7:00 AM
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Wearing traditional Peruvian ponchos, Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, back left, President George W. Bush, back center, Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet, back right; Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso, front left, and South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, front right, pose for the official group photo of 16th APEC summit in Lima, Peru, on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

Lima, Peru (AP) - It's a card the host country always plays close to the chest. When Pacific Rim leaders wrap up their annual summit, what traditional outfit will they be forced to wear for the photo-op?
 
With models from Paris to New York strutting down runways in Peruvian fleeces, it didn't come as much of a surprise when the heads of state emerged from Peruvian army headquarters wearing flowing, brown ponchos spun from baby alpaca shearings.
 
The tradition began in 1993, when Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders donned leather bomber jackets for their group photo in Seattle. Since then, they have exchanged their coats and ties each year for a traditional outfit provided by the host country.
 
They have worn Vietnamese silk tunics and Indonesian batik shirts. Last year in Sydney, they wore dark brown knee-length overcoats associated with Australia's sheep and cattle wranglers.
 
Peru's turn to host the summit came as exports of the soft, luxurious fleeces are booming, driven by demand from international fashionistas and environmentally conscious designers.

President George W. Bush wears a traditional Peruvian poncho during the official APEC summit group photo in Lima, Peru, on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Alpaca, along with vicuna and llama, are the three camelids native to Peru. Their warm, dryable fibers were worn by the ancient Incas, who wove their fleece into royal robes on delicate hand looms. Descendents of the Incas still herd the animals and spin their coats into ponchos and ear-flapped caps.
 
The Peruvian government also purchased peacoats and shawls made of the luxurious vicuna -- the most sought-after of the fleeces -- as gifts to the president's spouses, according to Ana Teresa Freyre, who owns the company that made the garments.
 
She wouldn't say how much the garments cost, but said her creations cost anywhere from $100 to $6,000.
 
Perhaps the biggest design question was what type of poncho would suit the varied physiques of the leaders -- more specifically, that of Peru's full-figured president, Alan Garcia.
 
In the end, Garcia looked at ease in the ankle-length, roomy poncho, punctuating his speech with a smile and a firm, "Viva APEC!"