The 46th edition of the Mohair Trophy, an annual competition established in 1970 to select and award the finest quality mohair fiber, took place in Johannesburg during an intimate gala dinner at The Saxon, a stylish boutique hotel in the posh suburb of Sandhurst.

The awards are cosponsored by the Ermenegildo Zegna Group and Mohair SA, a nonprofit organization representing the mohair industry. Paolo Zegna, chairman of the Zegna Group, hosted the dinner, which saw FE Colborne & Sons win the Mohair Trophy for the 10th time since the awards were established. Second place went to P.H. Viljoen and third place went to Neil Colborne.

Mohair is the natural luxury fiber that comes from the fleece of the Angora goat, and 50 percent of the world’s production of mohair comes from South Africa. Mohair production is centered around the Karoo region, where Angora goats have been raised since 1883. Angora goats came to South Africa via Turkey. Port Elizabeth, the premier city of the Easter Cape, of which the Karoo is a part, is the world’s mohair capital.

“The actual competition took place on the 6th of June in Port Elizabeth,” said Paolo Zegna. “Approximately 20 to 25 of the top mohair growers in SA submit their bales and they are judged anonymously. They are put in a pile, then assessed according to strict criteria, around 10 to 12 characteristics, such as regularity and cleanliness. The best 10 are set aside and auctioned to the market.”

It is only after the conclusion of the sale that the farmer’s identity is revealed. This year, the mohair lot judged to be the finest — the winning entry — also fetched the highest price ever paid for kid mohair, an indication, Zegna believed, that the market and the judges were of the same mind, independently singling out the same lot as the best.

Ermenegildo Zegna’s support of the South African mohair industry does not stop at the awards ceremony. While the awards encourage producers to deliver the highest standards of kid mohair fibers, the Italian luxury house goes a step further and purchases the top three bales.

“We buy back the winning bales at the same prices they were sold at auction,” Zegna explained, “and then we send them back to Italy, where the fibers are woven into fabric. They form the basis of an exclusive limited edition mohair fabric known as Mohair Trophy Selection.”

The resulting fabric is excellent suiting material, often reserved for Zegna’s best customers. “It’s a premium fabric,” noted Zegna. “Mohair is like the diamond of fibers. It is for the connoisseur.”

The prices are premium, too. Suits fashioned from 100 percent mohair retail for 79,700 South African rands, or about $5,800, while suits made from a mix of 51 percent mohair and 49 percent wool fetch 77,570 South African rands, or $5,620. Suits that are a mix of mohair, cotton and silk sell for 69,640 South African rands, or $5,000, and a 100 percent mohair blazer is 53,290 South African rands, or $3,860.

The Ermenegildo Zegna Group is committed to maintaining “exceptionally high standards of the raw materials we use for our most precious fabrics, such as wool, mohair, cashmere, vicuña and silk,” and Zegna is emphatic about mohair’s fine qualities. “It’s a well-performing fabric that travels well in the summer, and is fixed and consistent in its interpretation. Pure mohair is a summer fiber; mixed with wool and cashmere it becomes a winter material.”

While other countries produce mohair, notably Turkey and China, South African mohair is acknowledged to be of the highest quality. “It’s the Formula 1 of mohair because of its luxury, its performance, its regularity,” said Zegna. “The kid mohair used in our mohair suits are exclusively from SA.”

While the Zegna-backed competition has been around for close to half a century, Zegna lamented that mohair was still largely unknown and underappreciated, even in South Africa.

“We want to help mohair become more established and production is really important,” he said. “At the moment it is still very small compared to wool and cashmere.”

The change in format of the awards ceremony reflected the need to communicate the importance of the mohair industry to a wider audience.

“This time we mixed growers with final customers,” said Zegna. “It allowed both sides to explain and to ask questions. There was a back and forth. It helped the two worlds understand each other better.”