Sat, Jan 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Morales' fashion sense stirs debate

COOL OR POOR?Sporting a fine alpaca sweater through most of his world tour, Bolivia's president-elect's fashion choice may have drawn more attention than his policies

AP , LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

South African President Thabo Mbeki, right, welcomes Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales, left, at Union Building in Pretoria on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Evo Morales is Bolivia's new president, but you would think he was the next Paris Hilton with all the talk about his fashion choices.

As Morales wraps up his pre-inaugural world tour, some media have focused less on his plans to nationalize Bolivia's natural resources than on what he's worn to meetings with heads of state and royalty.

News photos have captured him warmly greeting everyone from the presidents of Spain, China and South Africa to King Juan Carlos of Spain while wearing the same fine alpaca sweater.

Morales, who grew up in extreme poverty and rose to power promising a better deal for Bolivia's long-oppressed Indian majority, has stuck to his humble roots.

His favorite outfit is black Wrangler jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and sneakers, although since winning the presidency he has begun wearing an elegant leather jacket, slacks and yes, the sweater -- a striped number in red, blue, white and green.

"The garment of discord, far from official protocol" is how Mexico's Reforma described it, running a page full of pictures that might have made readers wonder whether he found a laundry during the trip.

"For the Bolivians this is a fine sweater of alpaca which is a Bolivian export. For the Spanish press it's an offense to its good customs," it said.

In Paris, Morales appeared a bit more cosmopolitan -- opting for the leather jacket while greeting Jacques Chirac -- although he later doffed it, revealing the short-sleeved shirt while the French president kept to his traditional suit and tie. Morales didn't find a kindred fashion spirit until he reached South Africa, where President Thabo Mbeki hugged him in a casual khaki vest.

Portuguese writer and Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago lashed out at criticism of Morales, announcing at a political forum in Madrid that such talk reflected the "stupid pride of civilized countries."

Stupid indeed, says designer Beatriz Canedo Patino, who runs a high-end fashion house in La Paz.

"Are you kidding? We consider alpaca one of the finest, finest fibers in the world," Canedo said on Thursday.

"It's very light, there are at least 24 natural colors in this fiber, you can have a coat for 30-40 years without all those nasty pills and it's naturally waterproof," she said.

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