The Fibre of the Gods

The vicuña is a slender animal with lithe, agile legs, a long neck to enable it to keep watch for predators, and a small head with narrow, pointed ears. The smallest member of the alpaca, llama and guanaco family, it stands under a metre tall at the shoulder and rarely weighs more than 50 kilograms.

This shy, graceful camelid has inspired legends and stories, achieving mythical status: it could not be hunted and the sumptuous fibre obtained from its fleece could only be used by the emperor’s family and the highest dignitaries.

Perfectly adapted to the cold, dry climate of South America’s uplands, thanks to its warm fleece and rich blood capable of absorbing the scarce oxygen at these altitudes, the vicuñas live in flocks on plateaus that range from 3,800 to 4,800 metres above sea level in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Colombia, feeding on the few grasses that manage to survive in the harsh, arid conditions of the Andes.

To survive the freezing winters and scorching summers this precious camelid has developed a characteristic golden underfleece that is made up of hairs that are ultra-fine – on average only 12.5-13 microns in diameter - short and extremely dense, with extraordinary temperature regulating properties. The outer coat presents long, strong hairs that protect the animals from the elements. In Argentina, where the climate is even more extreme, the fibre is even finer and lighter in colour, almost white, blending into the glacial hues of the puna landscape.

Gathering and processing this extremely rare, exclusive fibre is a time-consuming process carried out according to tradition. The animals are only sheared once every two years, with an adult producing around 250 grams of hair. After the fleece is dehaired – the process to remove the coarser guard hairs – this works out to only 120-150 grams.

The annual global supply of vicuña fibre is less than 8,000 kilograms. Loro Piana works with this fibre to create exclusive garments of outstanding value: its takes the fleece of one vicuña to make a scarf, six for a sweater and a total of 35 for a coat.

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