Vicuña ~ Queen of the Andes

Illustration of a vicuña by Paige Catalano.

Illustration of a vicuña by Paige Catalano.

High amid the mountaintops of the Andes lives a majestic creature called the vicuña. (Pronounced “vi-koo-nyuh)

Relatives of the llama, cousin to the camel & wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, these doe-eyed, long necked beauties produce small amounts of super fine wool (only about 1.1 lb/year). This golden-hued wool is regarded as the lightest, warmest & softest in the world and 100 times more valuable than cashmere.

According to the Incas, the vicuña was the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king.

The animals with the “golden coats” were highly valued & it was against the law for anyone but Incan royalty to wear vicuña garments. The Vicuña is the national animal of Peru & appears in the Peruvian coat of arms.

About three million vicuña once roamed the rocky terrains of the Andes — until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, who made guns the primary method of obtaining “the silk of the new world” rather than shearing. 

By the 1960’s vicuña wool was incredibly scare with less than 5,000 of them left. Pop culture of the era played a part in the demand for vicuña— Nat King Cole, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich were all vicuña devotees. In the 1950’s film Sunset Boulevard , actor William Holden, is urged by a tailor— “As long as the lady is paying, why not take the vicuña!”

William Holden wearing  the  vicuña coat in “Sunset Boulevard”. Photo (c) Paramount Pictures

William Holden wearing the vicuña coat in “Sunset Boulevard”. Photo (c) Paramount Pictures

Eventually the government of Peru put a ban on the hunting of vicuña, but not before they became officially endangered in 1974. An embargo on all trade of its wool was placed & nature reserves were established allowing the population to recover. Today there are about 350,000 vicuñas and are still considered threatened, but thankfully at a much lesser concern.

While the population has recovered to a healthy level & became open for trade again in 1993, poaching remains a constant threat. Traditional (& cruelty-free) practices of shearing the vicuñas every 2 years, actually help keep them safe. Without that precious golden fleece they are out of harms way.

Today vicuña fur is still coveted by luxury fashion designers. So how much is a vicuña coat really worth?

As of June 2007, prices for vicuña fabrics can range from US$1,800 to US$3,000 per yard. Which means a coat made of 100% vicuña wool costs about $20,000.

If you’re interested in getting yourself one of these luxurious coats, you’re in luck— we have one vintage cashmere/vicuña blend Men’s coat available in the shop (pictured above) & Don’t worry, we’re not asking 20, 10 or even 2K for it. So darling, why not take the vicuña? ;)