The Vicuna is a relative of the Guanaco (see my post on Guanashina) but is a much smaller and delicate creature with finer wool. Prized by the ancient Incas it was at one time against the law for anyone outside of royalty to kill a Vicuna or to wear its wool.
Vicuna is not only the worlds finest wool but it also very rare. The Vicuna is very hard to domesticate as they have a tendency to escape, the animal can only be shorn every 2 years and only one fawn is produced with each mating. What has seriously impacted the number of Vicuna though has been the constant poaching and hunting of the creature since the 1600s. Unfortunately Westerners did not respect the creature as the incas did. By the mid 20th century poaching and hunting became so serious that the species nearly became extinct. By 1960 their numbers were reduced to around 6000 and in 1964 trade in Vicuna was banned to protect the animal. In 1993 the population with the aid of trained rangers had recovered enough to classify the species as of "least concerned" on the scale of endangered animals and the ban was lifted. Even so Poaching is a problem as the wool is so valuable poachers will hunt and kill the animal just to take its coat to make a quick profit or they will shear the animal too often or completely leaving it defenceless against the elements.
Loro Piana was awarded by the Peruvian government the rights to purchase Vicuna when the trade ban was lifted in the 90s. One of the first things they did was to begin to work with the local population teaching them how to shear the animal alive and to do so only every two years to allow the Vicuna to keep enough of its coat to survive the cold weather. They also set up a large reserve to care for the animals and to secure them from poachers. The peruvian farmers that care for the animals have since seen there wages increase by a factor of 4. Of course all this isn't simply a matter of being charitable, its good business sense. This rare fibre sells for around $1000 per yard. Vicuna has a luxurious lineage going back to antiquity and Loro Piana has smartly secured its supply. Its quite interesting to see that a species hunted to virtual extinction for its wool has now been brought back from the brink because of it.
"Loro Piana Vicuna" itself comes in a rather limited array of colors as the fine wool does not take to dying very well and loses its natural beauty. Vicuna typically came in natural colors because of this but Loro Piana has succeeded in adding some variation using very sophisticated dying methods. These are namely warm and very Loro Piana colors like beige, cream, caramel rusty reds and browns. Handling and seeing the cloth is amazing. Theres almost a natural basic attraction akin to handling a solid gold ingot. The color texture and feel are extremely seductive. The cloth is also available through Loro Piana in scarves, knitwear and in their Interiors (home furnishings) line in limited numbers.
Loro Piana Vicuna is sourced ethically and you can be sure with the Loro Piana selvedge that this is the case. I always deal direct with cloth houses rather than jobbers or middlemen. This gives me and my clients assurances as to the quality of the materials I am using as often cloth bought at low prices on the grey or black market can be fake, or cloth that didn't meet the cloth houses standards. In the case of Vicuna this kind of buying is even more important and I believe we have a responsibility as consumers to support ethical practices in sourcing cloth.
Join me on Friday where I will begin a series of eagerly awaited posts about 6000 stitches my high end Bespoke make.