The characteristics of the Vicuña wool are the result of over one million years’ evolution in an extremely cold natural environment. The Vicuña is the most precious wool in the world and it takes the name from a rare and savage South-American camelid. It is well known for its fleece made of long and thin fibres, which provide a very precious and bright fabric, exceptionally soft and warm.
Origins and legend
The exotic Vicuñas are native to the Andes, in the area which crosses Bolivia from the Titicaca Lake in Peru to the Argentinian North-West. The smallest among camels with their golden fur, vicuñas were considered sacred animals by Incas. Their story finds its origins in the legends kept by local shepherds.
Story goes that at the origin of the world, Wiracocha - the creator of all things - was displeased with the erratic human conduct and believed in the need of a punishment. A young “auki” - an immortal being - found out about the deity’s intentions and persuaded him in waiting before unleashing his wrath. The Auki suggested to be sent on earth among men to teach them how to till the soil, spin wool and make advantage of all the nature wonders. Auki left the world of the gods, provided that he would have come back after his task on earth, but things went otherwise. Before leaving, Auki decided to inspect his work one last time, so he went to the fields where he met a young lady: she was beautiful, slim, with large almond eyes and he fell in love with her, forgetting about his oath.
Months passed by and in the meantime the lovers had two children. Wiracocha knew about the transgression and decided to punish the traitor. Blinded by rage, he went down on earth, but when he beheld the beautiful newborns, he was enchanted by them. He decided no longer to destroy them, but instead he turned the auki and his wife into snowy mountains and the two children into creatures, whom features would have perpetuated the gracefulness of their mother and the golden brilliance of their father’s heavenly origins. Thus Wiracocha created the Vicuñas and left them free to wander in the immense steppes of the Andean Mountains forever.
Today 80% of the worldwide Vicuña species lives in Peruvian protected natural reserves, bred in traditional manners by the small local communities. For thousands years before the discovery of the Americas, vicuña was venerated and its precious wool was used to dress exclusively the Andean royalty, the so-called “children of the sun”. In the 16th Century there were three millions of Vicuñas in Tahuantinsuyo - the Inca Empire of the time - when the Spaniards arrived. The Crown lacked foresight in protecting the species, that was almost led to extinction in the 1960s, when the worldwide population of the small camelid had shrunk to less than five thousand specimens. Only then safety measures were taken, and the first results were achieved during the 1990s. In 1976 vicuña was included in the UN International Convention among the species that require the fullest protection.
Characteristics and workmanship
Vicuña is the rarest among raw materials and thanks to its extraordinary wool quality, it has been rightfully named “the fleece of Gods”. Well known for its warmth, fineness and splendour, this fibre owes its extraordinary properties to the tiny scales on the hollow fibres of the coat that trap the air, making the wool insulating, extremely warm and comfortable.
Vicuña wool is the finest in the world with its diameter of 12 microns, compared to the 15 of cashmere. Due to its sensitivity to chemical treatments, it is most commonly used in its natural colour, a warm golden brown. This is the rarest fibre, in fact a single adult animal produces 100 grams of fibre every two years. Moreover, vicuñas were not domesticated, so they live in the wild, where they are captured by woolgrowers who shear the prized fleece from their coat, then released according to the most ancient breeding techniques. People from the rural communities start with the removal of thick hair which grow in the soft fur. The softest, purest and thinnest fibres are carefully hand washed with warm water and then air-dried. The whole process is handled by experts: all the techniques are very ancient, handed down among Andean communities from one generation to another. The exclusive workmanship in all production stages allows the wonderful qualities of the raw material to be preserved unaltered, leaving the local ecosystem intact and the local culture protected. Once obtained the purest fibre, the looping of the vicuña wool takes place in the Malo artisanal factories: it is comparable to the creation of a piece of art.