Vicuña: One of the Most Coveted Materials in the World
I was in Loro Piana years ago when I first learned of vicuña. I had picked up a sweater, and it melted in my hands like butter. I immediately bought a few items including one of their scarves, which I wear every time I’m in Aspen or on an unusually cold day in New York. It’s practically weightless but keeps me incredibly warm.
While to those that have not experienced it, it may not be the most obvious status symbol of wealth. However, for those that do know and appreciate the value of this rare material, there is nothing else like it in the world.
Vicuña clothing was originally made only for the most elite in ancient times. This ancestor to the modern alpacas was a wild species that was sheered every few years to produce the best wool on the planet. It is also the smallest of the Camelids family and lives at altitudes over 10,000ft. Vicuña wool is fine and contains fibers that are hollow and that interlock in a way that holds in warmth without the extra weight.
The wool from these creatures is like no other in its ability to protect one from nature and in its comfort. Imagine the indigenous peoples of Peru parading their elite around in warmth and comfort. The Inca believed that the vicuña was a representation of a woman whose hair was made of fine strands of gold. At a production of only 9 ounces of raw fiber every two years, of which only 5 ounces can be used, vicuña is produced much more slowly than other natural ones. The material is so great because unlike sheep’s wool and other materials, vicuña do not produce lanolin which makes it light and hypoallergenic.
The regulations that surround the incredible vicuña fiber have been crucial to the production of the wool. With the conquest of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador began the massive devastation of the population of vicuña. In the 1960’s the estimated population was down to roughly 6,000 vicuñas. In a cooperation between U.S. groups, the World Wildlife Fund, Peruvian governmental organizations, and others the creation of a team to protect and increase the number of the wild animals helped to get the population up to over 70,000 in the Andean region. In 1994, once the numbers of wild vicuña were high enough, the wool began to be sold worldwide at a premium price, and the ban was lifted on the sale of vicuña fibers by the Peruvian government. The idea was to directly financially support the community that had brought them back from almost extinction. All of the sheering and production of fiber has to be done ethically so that the animals don’t get hurt.
Today prices for vicuña wool are more than $2,500.00 USD per yard, and a single scarf can cost around $4,000.00 USD. This is an experience that is an investment in a piece of clothing that will be with you for life. There are only two options for purchasing vicuña yarn from South America on the world market. These two companies are Loro Piana, owned by LVMH, and Agnona. If they don’t want to sell to a company, they can merely force you to go to the other who can also turn you away if they like. There are also limits to how much material they will sell to any one vendor.
Reserved originally for royalty, and known for its rarity, unique softness and warmth, the value of a vicuña article cannot be overstated. You are getting the best. This is one of the finest and most exclusive materials, and worth every dollar.