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Wool of the World

Ever wonder how the finest merino wool is made? Me neither, but last night I found out anyway, and it turns out that its pretty interesting.

Loro Piana, one of if not the finest wool distributor in the world, rewards the farmers who produce the finest bale of wool each year. It is called the Record Bale Cup- and in the world of wool its a pretty prestigious honor.

The best wool in the world is produced in Australia and New Zealand. Don’t ask me why, it just is. Farmers produce millions of bales each year, and out of those millions one from each country is chosen as the best. Then from those two, one is given the ultimate prize, the Record Bale Cup (although it looked more like a plate to me).

The quality of wool is measured by the fineness of the fibers. Wool fibers are so fine they are measured in microns.  A micron is 1/1000 of a millimeter.  So wicked tiny, if you want to get technical. To give you an idea of how small, one strand of hair is approximately 60 microns. The finest wool this year measured at 11.1 microns. Like I said, wicked tiny.

And to give you an idea of how the breeders and farmers have improved their wool over the years, the first record bale measured at 13.1 microns in 1997. And at the time that was considered extremely fine.

The breeders consistently pair the strongest rams and ewes together to improve the wool each year. And clearly its worked, since the fibers get finer and finer.

Loro Piana rewards the farmers to not only give them industry recognition, but to incentivize continued improvement. And he never uses the record bale until a finer one is produced. Meaning you’ll never get to wear the current champion.

Loro Piana hosted a gala a couple of weeks ago at the Metropolitan Club in New York to honor the bale winners. The finest wool year by year was displayed around the cocktail reception, so I walked around feeling each one. They were soft, silky smooth. I usually think of scratchiness when I think of wool, but clearly I’ve been wearing cheap wool. Which I already knew.

The night began with the award presentations in a small library, and then a dinner, where we feasted on spinach ravioli, salmon, and veal medallions. (I suppose lamb would have been in poor taste).

Along with dinner was a band that played hybrid jazz/dinner music, and an Italian opera singer. An added flair that in my mind will set this dinner apart from the others I begrudgingly attend on random Tuesday and Thursday nights when I should be home watching delightfully awful television.

I should also mention that Loro Piana is one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. He loves what he does, so when he talks about it there’s genuine passion is his voice and expression. If you ever have the means, (and most of you won’t), get your hands on some Loro Piana wool. And then also wear it.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Joanna Dorfman May 21, 2012, 11:56 pm

    Wow, well that might explain the price tag on some of the Loro Piana pieces! They really do feel like buttah though, there’s such an extreme difference between gross itchy wool and the finest merino wool. 

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