It is a privilege to be able to devoutly believe in uncompromised quality. We are living in a world where a 100% cashmere Uniqlo jumper costs less than GBP 80, while on a shelf few blocks away, a Loro Piana cashmere rollneck can charge you over GBP 1500. Have you ever wondered why the price range for cashmere products can be so wide? Well, that’s the “democracy” you get when you compromise – The cost of making a cashmere jumper can drop significantly by using inferior and shorter cashmere strands and single-ply yarns. The only downside is the ensuing planned obsolescence caused by weak durability and pilling, if the potential environmental costs do not count in the algorithm.
As the sixth generation of Loro Piana, the largest cashmere manufacturer and the biggest single purchaser of the world’s finest wools, Sergio and his younger brother Pier Luigi (known as Pigi) were born with the privilege to pursue the best quality while needless to worry about the price tag. “This is luxury because if somebody can select the best cashmere and the cost doesn’t matter, that’s a big privilege”, Pier Luigi once said.
The Loro Piana family starts as merchant of wool fabrics in Trivero, Northern Italy since 1814. While the official history of the brand Loro Piana commenced in 1924 when Pietro Loro Piana moved to Quarona Sesia and opened up wool mills. In the mid-1940s, Pietro’s nephew Franco takes over the family business and starts exporting luxury fabrics to the international markets. Thanks to Franco’s global perspective, Loro Piana became the supplier to clients from Savile Row to Fashion makers. “He was open-minded and everyone, even the best couture houses in Paris such as Christian Dior and Givenchy, bought fabric from him”, Sergio said about father.
Born in Milan in 1948, Sergio Loro Piana joined the family business in the early ‘70s. In 1975, he was designated the CEO of the Loro Piana Group, together with his younger brother, Pier Luigi. Uniquely, Sergio and Pier Luigi rotated the chairmanship every three years.
Sergio was both a wealthy industrialist and a patrician, debonair Italian gentleman with good taste on almost everything in life. In the office or on his sailing boat, his attire is always properly and stylishly dedicated to the occasion. In business, he’s hardly seen without the immaculately cut suits, never skip the tie, spoiled by the myriad in-house catalogue choices to demonstrate the classic Italian elegance with exquisite discretion and incredible luxury of materials. Yet the best part is – the way he dresses convinces you that things aren’t put together out of etiquette, but rather a natural reflection of his core. Like the broad-winged lapel on his Rubinacci tailored suits is not there for any sartorial splendour, but merely emanates the vision and ambition the man possessed.
With that exact vision, Sergio, together with Pier Luigi, transformed Loro Piana from a high-end weaver into the luxury house we know today by expanding into a luxury retail business, offering finished products made with the best in class raw materials. “He (Sergio) was the closest thing that the apparel industry had to Gianni Agnelli”, commended by the English writer and columnist Nick Foulkes. In fact, Sergio did follow Agnelli’s most well-known style quirk of wearing his watch over his shirtsleeve.
Dedicated to the family business since an early age, Sergio learned under his father Franco Loro Piana.
“When I was young, I spent summers working with the sales team in Paris and London – that’s where I learned to speak French and English. Other factory owners sent their kids to Australia and New Zealand to learn how to sort wool, but I think my father had a lot more insight.”
The father and son, travelling across time zones to keep the family business running: purchasing fine cashmere in Mongolia and Tasmania, and closing deals in Hong Kong. That experience paved the way to Sergio’s grand vision, and when things are under his reign, he knows he needs to go big, really big: “By 1975, our factory employed 300 people. It was big for our area but small for the world”. With decades of experience dealing with luxury Maisons, the Loro Piana brothers knew that ready-to-wear is the holy grail. Thankfully, the story didn’t go awry to the version of a wealthy textile manufacturer suddenly want to do haute couture.
With discretion, Sergio believes people who wear Loro Piana clothes should be real-life men and women, not some supermodels. Starting from satisfying demands of particular clients, who may be the King of Spain or some Hollywood celebrities, Loro Piana gradually developed their product lines and reputation through word of mouth among the international elite clientele. The products are based on the lifestyle adopted by their noble clients’ and themselves’. Explained by Sergio: “Our family is fascinated by horses, so we made a jacket for riding. We love to sail, so we made a jacket for sailing too. That’s why we don’t have a designer”. Together with his wife Luisa, Sergio would communicate with the design team directly based on their practical needs. “We are the first consumers of our products… Our customers don’t want to look fashionable: they just need to be stylish, with the best quality materials.” Sergio said. By 2013 (The year of Sergio’s pass away), they already have over 130 retail stores in the world’s most prestigious locations, 24 of them are in Japan.
Among Loro Piana’s privileged clients was Bernard Arnault, the chairman of luxury conglomerate LVMH. In 2013, he purchased 80% of Loro Piana’s shares with $2.57 billion. Sergio was the one who brought up the deal to Bernard, and the deal was settled in merely two-week time. Sergio added only one caveat to the deal: never bring a star designer into Loro Piana, as he had seen what happened to those brands when a designer took all the spotting light.
Loro Piana is much more than just a trademark, the vertically integrated family business is coveted because of its access to the world’s best raw materials. Obsessed with quality without compromise, Loro Piana has the unique savoir-faire in securing the finest natural textile fibres that mankind can ever get on earth. From Baby Cashmere to Pecora Nera (black Marino wool), from the Gift of Kings (super- light wool measuring a gossamer 12 microns in diameter) to the Lotus Flower; Among them, stands the Vicuña, the most luxurious and precious fibre from nature.
Living wild at an altitude of over 4,000 metres in the Andes, vicuña belongs to the camel family, closely related to llamas. To protect itself against the harsh environment in the Andes, vicuña grows silky smooth and dense fur, the fibre of its fleece measures 12.5 microns in diameter only. The animal is revered as the ‘Queen of the Andes’ and believed by the Incas to be sacred. In ancient times, the golden fleece of the vicuna was reserved for Inca emperors. But when the Spanish colonist entered the region in the 16th century, vicuña was extensively hunted for their fur. The aggressive poaching had decimated the species, in the 1960s there are only around 5,000 left.
Although the local governors have prohibited trading vicuña’s fleece, the poaching by criminals never really stop. To prevent the precious creature from extinction, after years of negotiation with the Peruvian government, in 1994, Loro Piana finally made a deal with local authorities that allows the company exclusive permission to buy, process and exporting vicuña in the forms of textiles and finished products. Under Loro Piana’s management, vicuñas are sheared every two years from the spring onwards, “as the weather gets milder, and they are released immediately back into the wild”, explained Sergio. In 2008, The Reserva Dr Franco Loro Piana was opened, 2,000 hectares of land for wild vicuñas to habitat…
“We worked with the Peruvian government to protect the species. We pay a fair price for them. They are extremely expensive – much more expensive than the best cashmere in the world – but that’s why the vicuna has survived”, said Sergio Loro Piana.
The quality without compromise does have its price, a vicuña New Central Park Vicuña jacket can cost over 20,000 pounds, while a turtleneck in vicuña is around 6,000 GBP. For the jet-set who get used to treating themselves with the best of everything, Loro Piana is indisputably the best gift to themselves. “Sybaritic indulgence disguised as unadorned simplicity”, as Nick Foulkes puts it.