THE LEGACY OF LORO PIANA

Photograph by Sinéad Deane

The hand-stitched legacy of luxury Italian fashion company Loro Piana is a tale of family history, traditional craftsmanship, sustainability and the enduring appeal of quality. Snuggled in a Loro Piana cashmere pullover, the wearer knows it’s not just about fashion; it’s about a one-of-a-kind feeling created with the world’s finest fibers.

Slip into this fall’s chinchilla-neck cashmere poncho with three-quarter-length batwing sleeves ($4,595), and you will instantly understand the understated, warm elegance that is Loro Piana in its softness and classic-with-a-twist design. The company doesn’t miss a beat in its appeal to conservative, chic globetrotters who balance daily demands with casual downtime. These are the clothes for the woman who might be skiing with friends in St. Moritz one day (in the Demitasse black fox fur, gray cashmere and wool-knit vest, $7,395); and taking meetings on Park Avenue the next (in a posh, turmeric, orange cashmere and fox-collar jacket, $5,450, and matching pencil skirt, $1,995). And on weekends, the Loro Piana woman might be found sipping a cappuccino with the kids on Greenwich Avenue in a cozy, beige, ribbed cashmere knit turtleneck sweater-dress ($1,395).

The hidden luxuries – like the mink collar on a tonal suede-trimmed cashmere knit coat ($7,495) – are emblematic of the company, which has been around since the early 1800s, trading wool and fabrics. In 1924, Pietro Loro Piana took it to the next plateau and established its headquarters in Italy, before Franco Loro Piana took the reigns. Seizing potential, Franco started to export fabrics and explore new markets for trade in the mid-1940s.

His sons, Sergio and Pier Luigi, have expanded his vision and maintained family relationships with suppliers, operating in more than 130 stores in addition to select department stores while seeking to discover fine new raw materials and preserve resources around the world. The latter became part of the cornerstone of Loro Piana’s business, which supports sustainability and research of new materials, like lotus flower fiber from Inle Lake in Myanmar. This in turn provides customers with the most luxurious knitwear, outerwear, pants, suit jackets, scarves, stoles, leather goods and accessories.

Many pieces in seasonal collections are extremely limited because of the scarcity of unique fabrics and the long hours and many craftsmen it takes to create just one garment. Today, Loro Piana is the world’s foremost cashmere manufacturer and the largest single buyer of the finest wools. In Australia and New Zealand, buyers seek the highest quality fleeces from merino sheep to use in pieces like this season’s weather-ready charcoal-colored wool coat with a hood trimmed in nutria fur ($3,595). For added incentives, Loro Piana established the World Record Challenge Cup awarded to the year’s suppliers of the finest wool.

A significant component of the company’s heritage is its special relationship with precious cashmere. In the mountains between Mongolia and northern China, Loro Piana buyers work with local herders to acquire the extremely rare fleece from the underbelly of Hircus goat kids. Baby cashmere exclusively produced by Loro Piana comes from the first shearing of a kid before it reaches 12 months and by nature, only happens one time to each animal.

All fabrics are moved to the workshops in Italy where craftsmen make the garments and do much work by hand still to this day. It’s part of the celebration of the pureness of these fine fabrics.

The exceptionally soft baby cashmere is used in spectacular long overcoats in the company’s limited edition Caravan pieces and in its Baby Cashmere for Babies line, which includes bodysuits, berets and socks in natural, undyed white. It takes 19 fleeces to make just one medium-weight pullover cashmere sweater. An overcoat might require fleece from 58 kids. Hence, the Caravan collection includes coats over the $50,000 mark.

This season, beautiful dark mink got an unexpected update with Loro Piana’s sportier hooded puffer jacket with ribbed knit trim ($34,495). The line is also focusing on functionality (and preparing for a chilly winter) and the coat, like many other versions for both men and women, is reversible, with the opposite side revealing a high-performance, wind-resistant fabric. Utter elegance and sheer sportiness are its two faces.

The company’s dedication to respecting and cherishing natural resources is best seen in its 20-year relationship with the vicuña, a relative of the llama.

Before the 16th century Spanish conquest of Peru, there were a million vicuñas that called the high mountains of the Andes home. Illegal poaching drew the species very close to extinction. The extremely soft golden-colored fur of the vicuña was once reserved only for Incan emperors – and the loss of the species would have been the death of an ancient Peruvian symbol.

In 1994, Loro Piana proposed a plan to save the species, reintroduce the material to an international market and employ locals to protect the vicuña – once known as “The Princess of the Andes” – using cruelty-free Incan practices. Needless to say, the plan was a success story and Loro Piana has renewed its commitment by additionally creating the Dr. Franco Loro Piana Reserve for further research on vicuñas.

Still, the stakes are high and a limited amount of vicuña fur is available each year as adults produce small amounts of fleece and can only be sheared every two years. Thus, one vicuña overcoat can drive a high price and require the fleece of 30 animals. But allegedly, it will be the softest, lightest and warmest coat of your lifetime and that is the Loro Piana legend.

Shop for Loro Piana at select department stores, including the fine apparel floor of Neiman Marcus at The Westchester in White Plains and at Loro Piana at 748 Madison Ave., Manhattan.

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