bal harbour blog

Magnificent Obsession

Pier Luigi and Sergio Loro Piana.

By William Kissel

On a chilly fall day high atop the Andes mountains, Pier Luigi Loro Piana intensely scrutinizes the delicate downy fur of a recently sheared vicuna with the intense gaze of a gold prospector seeking fat flecks of ore in his sieve. Loro Piana has performed this ritual many times over the past two decades as head of a consortium of textile makers charged with controlling the worldwide sale and distribution of the rare vicuna fiber. But these days, Loro Piana is more than a mere figurehead; he and his signature company now own the Peruvian land these native mammals related to the llama call home.

Back in May 2008, the family-owned Italian textile and clothing maker acquired 5,238 acres of land in Peru’s Lucanas province, about 12,000 feet high in the Andes, and completely fenced the property—about six times larger than New York’s Central Park—into the world’s largest privately held reserve to safeguard and breed vicuna. Once an endangered species, vicuna numbers are steadily growing thanks to the company’s efforts and both Pier Luigi, nicknamed "Pigi," and his brother Sergio, who serve a co-chief executives of their century-old brand, who have made the rare fiber the top tier in their heavy arsenal of luxury fabrics used to make some of the world’s finest clothing.

“Now that the diamonds are back on the market we’ve decided to start our own mine,” is how Sergio explained the land purchase shortly after the deal was struck.  Due to the rarity of the material, vicuna production remains a relatively small operation, explained Sergio, “but a very important one in terms of prestige. I don’t know anyone who would spend 30 years to acquire 200 animals, just to satisfy a dream to have access to the finest fiber in the world,” he says. After a short pause he adds, “except us, of course.”
Since the two brothers gained control of the family business nearly four decades ago, Sergio and Pigi Loro Piana have made it their life’s ambition to create one of the world’s most formidable luxury brands predicated entirely on rare fibers. That includes fine-micron Merino wool, baby cashmere, lotus flower and vicuna, among others. Securing such fiber used to create the fine cloths for their iconic clothing has led the brothers on a Marco Polo-like expedition to the four corners of the globe, from high in the Andes to the shores of New Zealand and Australia to the Gobi desert in Mongolia.

Therein lies the secret formula that makes Loro Piana such an anomaly in the fashion world. Unlike other Italian brands that focus exclusively on trend, the Loro Pianas remain faithful men of the cloth. With little regard for time and cost—something no stockholder of a publicly held company would ever permit—the brothers have used unconventional business wisdom and turned down numerous acquisition offers for their $697 million brand for the simple sake of doing things their way. “Our reward is that we are able to develop a totally new frontier in the quality of fine fabric, and the consumer can count on a brand that is not forced to compromise too much when looking for quality,” explains Sergio.

Looking back at the company’s history, it’s easy to understand how the Loro Pianas come about their obsession with fine cloth: It’s practically hot-wired into their DNA. Their great-great-grandfather, Giacomo Loro Piana, started out as a cloth merchant in the early 19th century, and more than a century later, in 1924, their great uncle Pietro founded the family textile business in Northern Italy’s Corso Rolandi, which is still the site of its headquarters. After World War II it was their father, Franco Loro Piana, who recognized the potential to grow the company by exporting their Italian-made cloths throughout Europe, Japan and the United States.

For their part, Sergio and Pigi have broadened the family brand far beyond the reaches of fiber accumulation. In the late 1980s, the brothers expanded into men’s and women’s clothing and, 10 years later, introduced the first Loro Piana stores, of which there are now more than 135, including one at Bal Harbour, all of which account for nearly 70 percent of the sales of their signature brand apparel worldwide. Simultaneously, they shrewdly aligned their name with the world of prestige sports such as equestrian show jumping, polo and international yacht racing as a means of connecting with affluent consumers who, as Sergio says, “don’t just play but actually live these lifestyles.” Most important are the Loro Piana products that result from such sporting sponsorships.

Take, for instance, the development of the brand’s hugely successful Defender jacket and vest, as well as its patented Storm System fabric technology, all the result of testing products on actual sailors, some of whom were involved in this summer's Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta in Sardinia. The Defender, developed more than 13 years ago, is still in the Loro Piana collection. Likewise, the brand’s signature Horsey jacket, developed in 1992 for the Italian equestrian team to wear during the summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, is still among Loro Piana’s top selling items.

“Most of the items in our collection were born for a specific purpose before being added to our line,” Sergio confirms. Eschewing the of-the-moment design philosophy that drives so many designer brands, he notes that “many of the best sellers in our collection are now more than 10 years old.” The reason for such product longevity, he says, is that, unlike clients who buy by brand, the Loro Piana customer is, quite simply, “more sensitive to quality and elegance than to the whims of fashion.”

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