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THE PERFECT TOUCH

Discovering vicuña, the world’s softest wool

If you’re not already familiar with vicuña, get ready to fall in love. This doe-eyed, cinnamon-hued South American cousin to the llama lives in Peru’s high alpine regions of the Andes mountain range, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing. Its precious coat provides ample insulation with its tiny interlocking wool fibers that trap air and heat. Yet the wool is not dense, in fact vicuña is one of the finest natural growing fibers in the world. One vicuña fiber measures about 12 microns in width, making vicuña wool exceptionally warm and soft.  

Although the virtues of vicuña are still not widely known in North America, the animal has been prized in South America as far back as 1300 AD. Pre-Colombian–era Incas considered a garment made of vicuña wool to be a cloth of gold and only Inca royalty were permitted to wear it. At that time, millions of vicuñas ran free in the high Andean region of Peru.

Vicuña
Vicuña

During the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadors discovered the merits of vicuña wool and called it the silk of the new world. The creatures were then avidly poached, which led to their near extinction by the mid-twentieth century. It is estimated that by the 1960s, only 6,000 vicuñas lived in Peru. Subsequent conservation efforts, including the creation of a 40-square-mile vicuña reserve in Peru’s Ayacucho region, have been effective. 

Today, more than 200,000 wild vicuñas live in Peru. The vicuña is Peru’s national animal, and conservation measures dictate how much and how vicuña wool can be collected. A limited number of companies are permitted to harvest the wool by shearing it after the animal is caught in the wild. Purchasing garments made from vicuña supports these conservation efforts and helps protect the species.

KUNA Luxury coat
KUNA Luxury coat

Since vicuña coats grow slowly and can take as long as three years to grow back, vicuña wool is rare and valuable. Vicuña wool is fine, lighter, and softer to the touch than even the finest cashmere and it is hypoallergenic.

“Our customers love the softness, lightness, and natural color of vicuña,” says Santiago Ortega, the owner and president of Alpaca Collections, based in La Jolla. “Cinnamon is the animal’s natural color and it varies slightly from animal to animal making each garment in our line of ultra-luxury vicuña scarves, shawls, sweaters, and jackets unique. Each garment integrates beautifully into a wardrobe.”

To see Alpaca Collections’ complete line of vicuña wool products, visit alpacacollections.com