Worth its weight in gold, vicuña fleece has long been labeled the gold of the Andes. Close cousins of the humble camel, vicuñas have been brought back from the brink of extinction by luxury fashion brand Loro Piana. The Luxury Channel has previously journeyed to Peru to film the work of the company first hand as they gear up for shearing season. We were recently invited to Rome for their exclusive press conference to hear their latest news – the announcement of their new partnership and shareholding in Argentinean firm Sanin SA, and to hear their exciting plans to bring their customers the very first products made from the wool of the Argentinean vicuña. At the Gran Premio Loro Piana Città di Roma, one of Europe’s finest horse show-jumping competitions and supported by Loro Piana for over 20 years, we were able to talk to one of the current CEOs, Pier Luigi Loro Piana (the other CEO is his brother, Sergio) about his latest project. “We’re always thinking of something new and we are very excited about our new project to protect and produce vicuña fleece in Argentina,” Pier Luigi says, adding, “it doesn’t hurt if you say you don’t pollute or that you use natural fibres. Many consumers appreciate that. When I go sailing, my wind jacket and my clothes are made with Loro Piana fabrics – which are waterproof and windproof – with wool and silk. We always try to push as much as we can the concept of natural fibres.”
Loro Piana is one of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses, whose passion and dedication to the sourcing of sustainable raw materials – and the communities that are dependant on the resulting income – is world-renowned. As Pier Luigi points out, “if you don’t give [the communities] money, what is going to happen? Nobody will take care of the territories. There is a full line of people who can take advantage of this [raw] material.” Loro Piana’s work takes the company across the globe, from Australasia for wool, to Mongolia for cashmere, and to Burma, for one of their latest initiatives – the lotus flower. “Lotus flowers are the vicuña of the summer,” Pier Luigi explains, before revealing “six thousand flower stems go into one jacket. Why? Because one flower makes one metre of yarn.” But what happens to the lotus once the stems are picked? “Lotus flowers grow continuously,” Pier Luigi reassures us. “It depends how you pick them – if you pick them in a certain way, they continue to grow. If you pull them in the wrong way, you destroy the root. But the people who are collecting the lotus flowers, they know how to do it.”
Of course, Loro Piana’s work also takes them to South America for the fleece of the vicuñas. The company’s interest in vicuñas started back in the 1950s, when founder Franco Loro Piana developed a passion for the plight of these persecuted creatures, but it wasn’t until 1984 that they officially began to invest in a safeguarding programme. Poaching in the area proved problematic, although the company remained committed to continuing their conservation efforts. They were rewarded for their work in 1994, when, at the head of a consortium, they won the competition of merit held by the Sociedad de Criadores de Vicuña (Society of Vicuña Breeders), under the protection of the government. In 2008, the Dr. Franco Loro Piana Reserva was set up, giving Peru’s vicuña populations vast hectares to roam around on. “We have fences, so we limit their freedom to go everywhere,” Pier Luigi explains, “but it’s not really limiting their freedom because they have 2000 hectares to walk!”
Today, the 2000 hectares of the reserve are home to some 2000 vicuñas, and there are currently 180,000 vicuñas living freely across the Andes, thanks also to Loro Piana’s commitment and efforts. “We can now concentrate on the best quality and the best quantity coming out of the Argentinean territory,” Pier Luigi says, the major difference being that unlike the gold of the Peruvian vicuña fleece, Argentinean fleece is more of a honey colour. Argentina now has a controlled shearing procedure in place under the watchful eye of a team of vets, preventing a source of income for criminals keen to exploit the price of fleece.
During shearing season in Peru, traditional Chaccu rituals are still performed, dating back to the days of the Incas, allowing the locals to celebrate the legends and traditions of their ancestors.
The result is the rarest and most extraordinary fibre in the world. But, as Pier Luigi explains, “textile technology is quite complicated! From the raw materials to the finished product is a very complicated process and you need a lot of know-how – even producing just the fabric is a nightmare! You have dyeing, spinning, weaving, finishing and then you have many ways of producing over 200 different styles of fabric.” But it’s the finished products that make the whole process worth it. “People are becoming more quality-conscious,” Pier Luigi reasons, when divulging Loro Piana’s dedication to using only the very finest raw materials. “My father was the one who really started to do special fibre blends. He was very interested in quality. But I don’t think it was a strategic decision – it was very much his attitude.”
It’s this attitude that has surely helped Loro Piana to remain at the forefront as one of the most respected and dynamic ethical luxury fashion brands, despite a lack of mass marketing of their products. “My customers are my salesmen,” Pier Luigi says simply. In an intriguing way, he has a very good point. “You can be very proud to see your product in the window, and then you see somebody appreciate it and buy it,” he says. “For a seller, that is a great moment.”
So, when he’s not busy being CEO of one of the world’s most prestigious fashion brands, what does Pier Luigi do on his days off? “I like skiing, I like nature and I like sailing better than anything!” he enthuses, before telling us excitedly, “I bought a Tesla. I will be one of the first guys in Italy taking delivery of a Tesla.” But why a Tesla? “In Italy, there’s no more room for speed cars,” he says. “I love electrical cars and we have a big station for producing solar energy. We do over a million kilowatts per annum, which is a big quantity, just by the sun. Then I have an electric car, which I drive around the valley making no gas, no C02. It’s like stopping smoking – it gives me such satisfaction. You plug it in overnight, and that’s it period, finished!” It’s refreshing to see that environmental responsibility really is a way of life at Loro Piana.