NEW YORK — There was a little good-natured rivalry going on at the Loro Piana Lounge at Sotheby’s Tuesday night with the Australian and New Zealand wool farmers sizing each other up from across the room.
“If you find out their secret, tell us,” laughed Pamela Sandlant of Australia’s Pyrenees Park, which won the Italian luxury brand’s Record Bale Award for producing the finest wool in the world for the fourth consecutive year. This year’s winning bale measured 10.4 microns, which edged out the 11.3-micron bale produced by New Zealand’s Visulea.
“You just have to have the right sheep,” Sandlant said with a shrug, downplaying the hard work and dedication it takes to produce such a high-quality fiber. First off, the breed has to be merino, which produces the finest wool, and then the herd must be nurtured and coddled. “Those sheep are more spoiled than I am,” she said.
Barrie and Yvonne Payne of Visulea were similarly coy: “We don’t give our secrets away,” she said. But like the Sandlants, they did admit to having a “passion for wool,” especially merino, which they described as “like no other.” And like the Sandlant’s sheep, she said their herd also lives the “Life of Riley.”
On Tuesday, Loro Piana’s deputy chairman Pier Luigi Loro Piana traveled to New York to present the 20th annual award to the winning farmers. Each year, the Italian luxury brand, now a division of LVMH Group, holds a contest to find the finest merino wool from both Australia and New Zealand.
He said that in the past two decades, the growers have brought the micron count down from 13.8 — “That’s close to a 30 percent difference,” he said. (For the uninitiated, a micron measures the fineness of a fiber and is equivalent to a thousandth of a millimeter. For comparison, a human hair measures 40 microns.)
The 150 meters of fabric that will be produced from this wool will be used to create around 40 custom men’s suits that will retail for $15,000 to $25,000.
Loro Piana added that the award provides to farmers an incentive to always keep pushing to produce finer and finer fibers. “These two bales are the best of the best out of the 5 million bales that are produced every year,” he said.
In addition to the product made from the Record Bale, Loro Piana also offers a program called the Gift of Kings, a collection of outerwear, sweaters and scarves crafted from wool of 12 microns, which is finer than cashmere and vicuna and available in only limited quantities, or 2,000 kilos a year, he said.
Although he declined to say how much Loro Piana pays the winning farmers, he said the amount is “substantial,” and encourages them to continue to push the envelope on wool.
Fabio d’Angelantonio, chief executive officer of Loro Piana, said the company’s ongoing commitment to the wool industry is a testament “to the great passion that still bonds us all in this mission after so many years. We feel privileged to have such a prestigious competition in association with our brand’s name. The commitment of the company and the breeders are proof of the importance of this struggle and the sustainable supply chain for the ultimate extrafine merino wool in the world, not only in terms of fineness but of length and tenacity as well.”