Its wool was considered the cloth of gold by the Incas and, today, a pair of socks made from it will set you back around $1,000. Find out about the vicuña, the Andean cousin of the llama, and its expensive wool, worn by Incan royalty.
Vicuña wool is a very fine wool made from an animal called a vicuña, a South American camelid that lives in the high alpine areas of the Andes. Vicuñas are cousins of llamas and were celebrated by the Incas for their fine wool. This was so cherished that in Incan society only royalty was permitted to wear clothing made from vicuñas. The wool is popular because of its softness and its ability to retain heat. The fur is capable of keeping vicuñas warm in the sometimes freezing temperatures of the Andes.
First of all, vicuñas don’t produce wool very quickly, and it can take them years to grow back sheared wool, which makes gathering large quantities difficult. In addition, the animals are not domesticated like their cousins the llama and the alpaca. Moreover, they were nearly extinct, their numbers being reduced to as little as 6,000 in the 1960s, before Peru undertook conservation efforts to help save their national animal. In 1993, as the population increased throughout the Andes, restrictions on the export of the precious wool were finally lifted.
The quality and fineness of the wool, coupled with its limited availability, makes products made with vicuña wool extremely expensive. A pair of socks made with vicuña wool will cost in the region of $1,000. If you want a sweatshirt or sweatpants, that’ll cost you something more like $24,000. Its vast price tag makes owning a vicuña wool item a very powerful fashion statement.