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Clothes maketh the man, they say. And the woman, too. But beyond mere Egyptian cotton, merino wool and cashmere, is another rarefied stratosphere of luxurious fabrics. Immensely rare, and therefore extremely expensive, this is a universe of the softest, silkiest and snuggest textiles; that thousands of hours, artisan hands that have toiled decades and endangered species combine to contribute to. Wear it well and wear it proud.
From: New Zealand
The magnificent red deer population of New Zealand have adapted to the bitter winds blowing up north from Antarctica by producing a soft, thin coat that protects them from the chill. The fibre extracted from this coat is known as cervelt, which rivals cashmere in softness and of which only 20g are collected per deer per year. Cervelt is the purview of specialist tailors, mainly Italian, like Mariano Rubinacci of Naples. How exclusive is cervelt? In 2014, Harry’s of London offered a limited run of 100 cervelt socks; priced at US$1,500 (S$2,140) per pair.
2. Japanese Denim
Leave it to the Land of the Rising Sun to perfect a fabric created elsewhere. Japanese denim holds a mythical reputation among denim fans, where an artisan approach is applied to the fabric of the masses. By using old looms to produce selvage denim and natural dyes, Japanese denim became an art form. Production is concentrated in the town of Kojima, Okayama, where
Japan Blue Group is based. A supplier of denim to
Louis Vuitton and
Gucci, Japan Blue Group also produces its own jeans under the label
Momotaro. The G001-T Gold Label Momotaro jeans are probably the pinnacle of denim artistry, made completely by hand and dyed using the natural indigo of indigofera tinctoria, which actually gets darker with age. The price? A mere US$2,000 (S$2,850).
3. Burmese lotus flower silk
Unique to a country that has only recently emerged from isolation is lotus flower silk, or kyar chi (a similar fabric is produced around Tonle Sap in Cambodia, developed independently). The discovery of this fabric was entirely by accident; the story goes that a century ago, a girl plucked a lotus flower to offer at her Buddhist pagoda. She noticed a strand of fibre where she had cut the stem and decided to weave it into a robe for the temple’s beloved monk. The practice caught on and continues to this day in the same area – Inle Lake. Tedious to create, kyar chi is extremely rare and soft, and has been described by
Loro Piana as ‘the vicuña of plant-based fabrics… the last discovered jewel of the world of textile fibre’.
4. Diamond Chip
From: Great Britain
With its Savile Row heritage, it is little wonder that British mills continue to produce some of the best, most specialised fabrics in the world. Of the many purveyors whose history spans centuries, Scabal probably produces the most unique fabrics of all. Founded by Otto Hertz in 1938, Scabal produces the Diamond Chip – where fragments of diamonds are woven into a blend of Super 150s wool and pure silk. Sedate and dignified, it glitters where it matters. Scabal also creates a whole range of other incredible fabrics, including wool interlaced with 24k gold, platinum or lapis lazuli, silk made from the mighty Kapok tree, merino wool scented with orchids, and is one of the few companies with access to vicuña wool.
5. Baby Cashmere
From: Mongolia, China
Cashmere is still considered king, but not all cashmere is created equal. Italian fine fabric producer Loro Piana has developed a specific kind of cashmere, woven from the underfleece of Hircus goat kids from Mongolia and northern China. The fibre is gathered through a delicate, harmless combing procedure that occurs only once in the goat’s life, with one kid producing no more than 80g of this soft down that is reduced to 30-40 usable grams. Incredibly fine, the fibre measures 13µm (microns) versus 14.5µm of traditional fine cashmere, translating into a fabric 20 per cent softer than regular cashmere.
From: Nepal, India
Rivalling the vicuña is shahtoosh, woven from the down hair of the Tibetan antelope or chiru. Like the vicuña, shahtoosh is incredibly fine (12µm vs 9µm of shahtoosh). Unlike the vicuña, however, the chiru is still incredibly endangered, under threat from poachers, mining and infrastructural developments. Possession and sale of shahtoosh (Persian for ‘the king of fine wools’) is now illegal in most countries, but trade still continues. Shahtoosh is traditionally woven into ultra-luxurious shawls valued at US$5,000 (S$7,130) each, and are so brittle and fine that only the master weavers of Kashmir are known to be able to handle it.
From: Central Andes, South America
Wool from this cousin of the llama is known as the ‘fibre of God’. Spun from hairs gathered from the back and neck of the animal, it used to be the exclusive preserve of Incan royalty. Hunted almost to extinction in the last century, it was only recently that the vicuña population has recovered well enough for harvest to begin. Collecting the hairs is tedious; the vicuña starves itself to death in captivity, and the law strictly regulates the harvest of vicuña hair to ensure sustainability. One adult vicuña produces only 500 grams of wool a year, barely enough for a scarf, and it cannot be shorn for two years after. Why go through all that trouble? Because vicuña is the finest, warmest and lightest fibre in the world. Three companies in the world have a stranglehold on legal vicuña wool, including the legendary Italian luxury clothing company Kiton. A vicuña suit, which is always bespoke, would cost at least US$50,000 (S$71,300) and is unique; vicuña wool responds badly to chemical dye, and left in its natural colour, so every bolt of vicuña has a unique shade.