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Vicuña: The World’s Rarest Fabric

Kiton might just have the planet’s last bolt of creamy white vicuña.

Kiton’s heart lies in two nondescript buildings in an industrial suburb of Naples, Italy. One houses some 400 tailors assembling suits with an endless stream of nearly invisible hand stitches. The other is the company’s fabric warehouse, which is filled with cloth piled to the ceiling—from vintage English wools, the kind that will just be hitting perfection when the suit they’re made into has been worn for a couple of decades, to Italian 200s, cloth so fine that producing it involves a technological arms race rivaling the Cold War, as weavers strive to make the fiber a micron thinner. These fabrics define Kiton and make their suits not just luxurious but unique.

All but one are for sale, available to be turned into jackets or pants (or even ties). The one that can’t be had for any price is a bolt, about three yards long, of creamy white cloth. It’s softer than the cashmeres, more rare than the smallest micro-batch Supers. One client, a billionaire from Asia, flew in to get fitted for a suit, saw it and offered six figures to have it made into an overcoat; Kiton CEO Antonio de Matteis refused. This coveted fabric was the last of the run, possibly the last of that harvest available anywhere. Kiton was keeping it for their archives.

What could make a cloth so precious? The fabric is made from hairs gathered from the back and neck of the vicuña, a llama-like animal that lives only in the high Andes, and only in the wild—it starves itself to death in captivity—so it cannot be farmed. By the late 1960s, it had been hunted almost to extinction, and it wasn’t until the mid-’90s that the herds came back and the ban on production was lifted. Now, Peruvian campesinos gather the fiber the old way, using the chacu method—half-religious ceremony, half human sheep-dogging—which the Incas used centuries before. Hundreds of farmers join hands in a circle, herding the animals into a cluster before shearing. An adult vicuña produces only 17 ounces of fiber a year, barely enough for a single scarf. “It takes at least three years to get enough to make just 14 coats,” de Matteis says.

Even by Kiton’s standards, the white vicuña isn’t cheap: $115,000 for a coat, $75,500 for a suit jacket. Both, obviously, are available only as bespoke, and customers have to come to the factory for their fittings. Despite, or perhaps because of, that, reservations for Kiton’s next bolt are already being made. “We have collectors who buy from every run,” de Matteis says. “Because it’s a natural color, there are slight variations in each bolt, and they like to have one from every harvest.” If you want a coat made from the world’s finest cloth, you may want to put your order in soon.

To order your own vicuña coat or jacket, call 39-081/585-5289. For more information, go to kiton.it.