The Rarest, Softest, and Most Expensive Fabric in the World

Vicuna fabric
Vicuna fabric | Source

Origins of the Softest and Warmest Fabric in the World

Wonder how it would feel to own a coat made of the softest and warmest fabric in the world? You may be surprised by what fabric earns the distinction. One of the world's rarest collection of fine fabric comes from goats. It is cashmere. But there is another fabric even more rare than cashmere, and it is vicuna! This rare fabric is named after the animal it comes from, a llama-like animal from Peru with orange fur and white patches. Vicunas are the smallest and most graceful members of the camelid family and their fine coats are warm enough to allow them to live in the mountains at freezing altitudes.

Vicuna is not only the lightest and warmest fabric in the world, it is also the most expensive. According to the Wall Street Journal, a coat of it will run upward of $20,000; a scarf made of the material will cost about $4,000. It is also the finest natural fabric in the world—each hair measures just 12 microns in diameter; for a comparison, the diameter of a human hair is about 50 microns, and that merino wool is roughly 24 microns. It is the finest fiber that can be spun. It resembles very fine wool, but feels like a luxurious blend of silk and other fine hairs.

Hermes has made vicuna coats.
Hermes has made vicuna coats.

The Vicuna

A relative to the llama and a member of the camelid family, this rare breed of animal comes from the high altitudes of the Andes in South America. Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Peru are the beautiful homelands of these wonderful creatures. It lives and feeds on the grasslands and plains of the mountains, where it roams wild at altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 feet above sea level and cannot be domesticated.

For centuries, dating back to the days of the Incas, this rare camel breed has been roaming the countryside in South America. This wool fabric was only worn by royalty centuries ago! Commoners who wore vicuna fabric were put to death. Vicuna wool has been highly regarded since the time of the Incas, who named it "the fabric of the gods." As such, the Incas law reserved it exclusively for family members of royalty.

The great white vicuna starves itself in captivity, so farming them is off limits. Therefore, both in the times of the Incas and the present day, they roam free except for when they are corralled in heard and shorn of their wool. Their wool is made all the more rare due to the fact that vicunas only shed a pound of hair every year and can only be shorn once every three years.

A Vicuna in its natural habitat.
A Vicuna in its natural habitat. | Source

Unfortunately, when Spanish conquistadors took over Inca territory, they hunted vicunas both for their meat and their skins. The conquistadors referred to the fiber as "the silk of the New World." As a result, the animal's numbers dropped over the centuries. During the time of the Incas, there were more than a million, but by the mid 1960s, there were only 5,000. This is when controls were first introduced on the trade of vicuna wool.

In 1976, vicunas were placed on the endangered species list. The United Nations agency that monitors trade involving endangered animals and plants is CITES. Any kind of trade was forbidden with the vicuna species. Presently, the conservation efforts of four South American nations have seen the number of vicunas stabilize and increase substantially. Peru, one of the four South American nations with sizable vicuna populations, has over 160,000 of the animals.

Today, vicuna wool is harvested very much in the same manner as in the days of the Incas. They are herded into clusters where they are sheared for their wool and then set free into the wild. The international trade in vicuna fabric is once again allowed. Because the vicuna is unsuitable for farming, their low yield of wool each year, along with the fact that they are relatively low in numbers, makes this fabric very rare and expensive. The unique softness, lightness, warmth, and wonderfully creamy texture of this material ensures that vicuna yarn will remain the most expensive fabric in the world.

The Golden Fleece

Comments 21 comments

Tams R profile image

Tams R 4 years ago from Missouri

Educational and interesting. I'd never heard of Vicuna before this article. I surely cannot afford it, but at least I know about it. Thanks.

Marla Rose profile image

Marla Rose 4 years ago from Aventura, Florida Author

It's funny because I had never heard of vicuna before either until a couple of months ago! Yes, I agree with you a 100 percent. I cannot afford it either. But I thought it would be interesting to know about! Thank you for the comment.

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I love the feel of expensive fabrics but don't end up buying it because of the special care it needs. Voting this Up and Useful.

Marla Rose profile image

Marla Rose 4 years ago from Aventura, Florida Author

Thank you Alocsin for voting this hub useful. I appreciate your sincerity.

ugina profile image

ugina 4 years ago from Bhutan

awesome. great detailed hub. Never knew about it before, very interesting. Thank you for this hub.

Marla Rose profile image

Marla Rose 4 years ago from Aventura, Florida Author

You are quite welcome. I am glad you find this hub very interesting and awesome. I appreciate your feedback. Yes this hub is quite unique as I have never heard before about this expensive rare fabric myself until the day I stumbled upon the articles I had read and started to do my research on it. I think it's a fabulous piece of fabric.

TotalHealth profile image

TotalHealth 4 years ago from Hermosa Beach, CA

I love wearing cashmere. Until now I never heard of vicuna, but your article has piqued my interest. Thanks!

Marla Rose profile image

Marla Rose 4 years ago from Aventura, Florida Author

I am very pleased that you like this hub on the rarest and most expensive fabric in the world. Yes agree it is quite interesting to know that a fabric out there in the world could be so costly. I appreciate your candor and comment. Thank you!

Marla Rose profile image

Marla Rose 4 years ago from Aventura, Florida Author

I am glad this article was interesting to you. Yes, I thought the same thing myself when I first came across the article. I thought, how in the world could a piece of fabric be so rare and expensive. The article was very interesting to me and I found it very rare indeed. Plus, I had never heard of vicuna either. Yes, cashmere if wonderful to wear. Thank you so much for your comments!

alice 4 years ago

thanks for this information but i am sad that vicunas are hunted my wish is to save the vicunas

B, J.B 4 years ago

I'm thinking of redoing the Astons interior in vicuna !

Peruvian 4 years ago

Actually the prices posted here are overinflated because of transportation costs and also because the tailors that make vicuna clothing often pass through many contacts to get the wool. The only way to get Vicuña wool at an affordable price is to fly to the peruvian highlands and try to do some networking, and if you're lucky you may find an association (Cooperativa) of Vicuna herders who will sell you the wool at an inflated price (because you're a foreigner, but this ''inflated'' price is nowhere near the prices posted here. 100,000 bucks for a goddamn overcoat?? That's one of the biggests scams i have heard!

kimpadgett 4 years ago

Have a blanket/Bedspread by the name Vicuna. This is died purple/white. Tag also says Vicuna Companic Limitado Marco Registrar Corijas-Cubrecamas. Is this made of Vicuna or just highjacked the name? No other writing on tag. Any info is helpful. Thanks

gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 3 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

Extremely well researched and informative hub. Learned quite a lot about vicuna. I will have to more research on the subject. Thank you for writing this hub.

paxwill profile image

paxwill 3 years ago from France

Interesting, I have never heard of the vicuna before. They look a lot like llamas.

Robbin 3 years ago

Farmville will eventually introduce Vicunas into their stock...

DEBI 2 years ago

Sherman Adams, president Eisenhower adviser accepted a vicuna coat in 1958 and lost his job over it. Rare and expensive indeed. I was fortunate to find a vintage coat on ebay advertised as "some fleecy fabric" with a part of a vicuna label in the photo. Took a chance and it is one of my prize possessions. Unbelievably warm and soft and I have several cashmere coats. Also have one cashmere and mink that is almost as lovely

vicuna45 profile image

vicuna45 2 years ago from New Jersey

I inherited a beautiful coat with the labels: 100% Pura Lana Made in Italy & Simon's Reggio Emilia & Size 42.

This coat belonged to my late spinster aunt. There is nothing identifying it as "vicuna". However, the first time I ever heard the word "vicuna" was from her and it was about this coat and she never ceased telling me that it was "vicuna" and that she bought it in Italy in the 50s. After she passed on, my father then told me it was vicuna and that my aunt paid plenty for it in Italy.

I want to sell it on eBay but how can I get the coat verified by a professional that it is indeed "vicuna". It feels like nothing I've ever felt before in a fabric. I also want to point out how well made it is. The stitching is like nothing done in today's world. Plus the coat looks just like the others being sold on eBay except those have "VICUNA" labels.

Is there anywhere I can have this coat tested?

Adi 15 months ago

Cashmere has over the past 2 decades lost the "heritage" factor that it had owing to mass production that now takes place. However, if you are lucky, you can still get your hands on a handmade Cashmere scarf from Kashmir itself - which falls in the range of 11-14 microns - the same as Vicuna. Another fabric, that makes both Vicuna and Cashmere feel like cardboard, is the Shahtoosh - check it out but don't buy - the species is now endangered.

RayRay Risin 6 months ago

I recently got a cashmere sweater (brand new, still had the store tags, $4 at Goodwill!), which I never thought I'd be able to own due to the price. Since I have finally gotten to feel it, I would LOVE to feel vicuna, even just for a few seconds!

romon khan 5 months ago

i wish i had a herd of vicuna....... :)

this article is very interesting.

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