We saw three different arms of the Loro Piana operations in and around Quarona, northern Italy. In Quarona is the corporate headquarters, including archive books of bunches going back to pre-World War One, and all the finishing and quality control for woollen and worsted cloths. In Roccapietra the woollen yarn spinning is done, and you see the big bags of fluffy cashmere that come in, the 40-metre-long machine that combs it into yarn and the state-of-the-art laboratory that scrutinises its purity. Finally, in Sillavengo, a wholly-owned subsidiary does all the knitwear production (that’s them with the tube lights, doing a bit of quality control).
It was great learning how knitwear is made – and therefore why it is so hard to alter. It was great seeing how rough cashmere or even vicuna is until it is brushed – often still with dried thistles, incongruously. And it was interesting to learn how fly-away wool is spun into something that doesn’t just pull apart like candy floss.
At the other end of the scale, innovation in new materials often requires a lot of time and money for very little output, at least initially. This thread starts with Tasmanian wool in the 1970s (effectively the first branded cloth), through vicuna (LP was granted 10-year exclusivity to effectively save the camelid from extinction), baby cashmere (one hyrcus goat produces just 30g of the stuff in the first year of its life) to, most recently, lotus flower cloth. At the moment LP is producing 50 metres of it a month. It is using that to make 10 made-to-measure jackets around the world.
Visiting Loro Piana, you get the sense at every stage that this is the forefront of technology in wool and woollens. It’s an invigorating experience. (The beautiful valley and surrounding Alps don’t hurt either.)
Photos: Andy Barnham