Vicuña – the better-than-cashmere fleece

Vicuñas

Vicuñas

Vicuna_Scarf_0411Recently while touring Peru, Yvonne and Bob Schweitzer found a luxuriously soft scarf that they both fell in love with. It was nothing like they had ever felt before, made from Vicuña, an amazingly fine and soft fleece. Yvonne said that the feel of the scarf in her hand was almost imperceptible, “like air!”

What is Vicuña? Or is it Viscuna? Vicugna? Why is it so soft? Why is it so special?

Yvonne wondered if her elite customers would like to own a wrap or shawl or scarf made of prized Vicuña fleece. She thought of her customers who like the best of the best, who might want to find out what Vicuña is and have a piece of their own.

Vicuña is the name of this animal and its coat, which turns out to be the Gold Standard of valuable fibers, grown by this grazing animal (a camelid), which looks like a smaller and more elegant llama, and similar to the small alpaca. For many centuries, the Vicuña was poached for its precious cinnamon-colored coat, while unusually light and fine, keeps the animals warm in the below freezing mountains. This is the world’s most valuable natural fiber, selling for $225 for a pound in today’s open market. The high price of Vicuña fleece is due to the scarcity of this shy wild animal and the 3 years it takes to grow a coat ready for shearing.

Habitat

The Vicuña’s habitat is the high altitude Andes, and successful anti-poaching conservation efforts and long-term strategies to create large reserves where the locals can protect, breed and shear vicuna were spearheaded in Peru. (The Vicuña is also the national symbol of Peru.)

Peru-Map Vicuña in the coat of arms of Peru

Other countries with a significant resurgence of the Vicuña population are Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. The beautiful Vicuña are entirely wild, and live in family groups with only one male who protects the territory and herd from interlopers and predators. The female produces one baby, known as a “cria” after 11 months of gestation.

Vicuña fawn known as a “cria”

Vicuña fawn known as a “cria”

They are very communicative and use many sounds and subtle body movements to signal one another alarm, danger, anger, fear, as well as produce a unique “orgling” sound to attract available females. The Vicuña’s fleece is most often in many varied shades of golden brown. They have white faces and usually white sides and legs, and small head with very small ears. The body can range in length to about 5 feet, and height of about 3 feet from hoof to shoulders.They grow to a mature weight of about 150 pounds. They are very sweet looking animals with kind and curious faces.

Vicunas in the Peruvian Andes

Vicunas in the Peruvian Andes

The ancient Incas prized the Vicuña’s valuable fleece and participated in well organized communal herding, called “chacu”. Hundreds of thousands of villagers coordinated their efforts to funnel great herds of Vicuna into narrow passageways, to be trapped and released after shearing their incredibly soft coats. This fleece was so valuable that it was seen as fit only for rulers and their elite. Execution was the punishment for commoners who dared wear it!

Vicuna Shawl_0410You might love the highest quality cashmere, but one touch of Vicuna might make you decide that you can’t live without this luxury. A Vicuña scarf or shawl has a weightlessness that feels close to floating. But then there is the softness.The fiber, fleece, wool, or coat of the vicuna is the finest grown by any animal. It is known to be very lightweight, yet with exceptional insulating properties. Each individual Vicuña hair is super fine and smooth which creates a highly reflective (lustrous) quality.The diameter of its fiber is 12.5 microns, compared to the best cashmere at 13.5 microns and basic cashmere ranges from 14.5 to 17.5 microns.  This means the fiber is super fine, which means light weight, yet exceptionally long and lustrous.

So the question is:

Do you wish to own a scarf, shawl or wrap made of super soft, fine luxurious Vicuña? Please let Yvonne and Bob Schweitzer know your thoughts. They would be happy to get your feedback and if you are interested, they will create a Vicuña collection for you to select from. Please send your thoughts, ideas and suggestions to Schweitzer Linen on the questions and answers post. Depending on your answers you may be able to purchase an accessory made of one of nature’s most luxuriously soft creations: Vicuña.

Jacqueline Paredi
Designer
New York , New York
Sarasota, Florida