Alpaca, Cashmere and Vicuña: Which Is the Best for Gift Giving?
Teri Agins, WSJ Wall Street Journal
When it comes to the most luxurious natural fibers that are warm, lightweight and soft against your skin, all three fibers fit the bill. The top-drawer pick is vicuña, from the rarefied endangered species. That will easily set you back $4,000 and up for a scarf. Go shopping in person to examine these fine fabrics up close.
Cashmere became the rage starting in the 1980s and now there are plenty of cashmere garments to choose from. The finest cashmere and alpaca garments are roughly on par, at least in terms of price.
I’m guessing your girlfriend already has a closet full of cashmere clothes, and that’s why you’re considering a scarf for her. In that case, the more novel alpaca gets my vote. I bought my first baby alpaca sweater at a street market when I lived in Lima, Peru, during the summer of 1976. That $20 sweater was super warm and didn’t itch. The styling wasn’t great but I loved its rich natural color and was impressed with how it was so warm and featherweight at the same time.
Alpaca comes in 24 natural shades ranging from white to black. It is said to be softer and about 10% lighter and warmer than cashmere because of its longer fibers. It pills less than cashmere and is hypoallergenic. Alpaca has a noble tradition of being connected with the culture of Peru and being prized as the “gold of the Incas,” typically worn by royalty of the tribe.
Designers using alpaca include Giorgio Armani, Max Mara, Nanette Lepore, Tocca as well as the traditional, high-end Loro Piana, purveyor of the finest cashmere, alpaca and vicuna. Surfing online, I saw scarves in “baby alpaca” priced from $49 and up at AlpacaBoutique.com.
“Alpaca is being rediscovered,” said Daniel Adams, co-owner of AliciaAdamsAlpaca.com, breeder of alpacas in Stanfordville, N.Y., since 2005.
In 2010, the company began marketing alpaca scarves, throws and accessories to retailers such as Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus. President Obama gave a pale blue alpaca blanket from Alicia Adams Alpaca to baby Prince George of England last year. The brand’s alpaca scarves come in 70 shades, priced at $165 and up.
Bred for their precious fibers, alpacas and vicuñas are camelids, related to the larger llama, and are found primarily in Peru. There are an estimated four million alpaca and about 200,000 vicuñas—so rare that the number of vicuna garments produced each year is limited. By contrast, there are an estimated 450 million cashmere goats, world-wide. The Peruvian government has taken measures to protect and promote both alpacas and vicuñas.