Not to be confused with the Angora goat from which mohair wool is made, Angora wool comes from Angora rabbits and is the lightest, finest and warmest natural fiber. Angora fibers, like alpaca, are hollow and soft, giving them unmatched warmth and softness. The fibers are extremely soft, but also very delicate. For this reason, angora is often mixed with other fibers to increase its durability.
The extreme fineness of angora makes it prone to matting and felting (another reason it is mixed with other fibers), but it also requires angora farmers to comb the rabbits every day. This intensive process and low performance add up to a high price.
Most camel hair comes from Bactrian camels, which are raised in cold regions such as Mongolia, China and Russia, and is collected when the camel molts in spring. Camel hair is hollow like mohair and is finer and longer than sheep wool. The result is a fiber that is lighter and shinier than sheep’s wool and almost as soft as cashmere. Although camel hair is dyed well, it is often kept in its natural color, a light golden brown, and is used synonymously to refer to the color itself.
Alpacas are native to South America and produce hollow hairs. This unique property not only makes alpaca lightweight but also adds greater insulation. It is both lighter and warmer than sheep’s wool. Compared to cashmere, alpaca is equally soft, but noticeably stronger. Alpaca hair is also naturally hypoallergenic, making it ideal for people with sensitive skin.
The rarest wool comes from the vicuña, an animal related to the alpaca and the llama, native to the Andes. The vicuña was sacred to the ancient Incas, who prized the wool for its softness and warmth and reserved it for royalty. The wool is finer than cashmere and extremely warm. Because it is sensitive to chemicals, it is often left in its natural state, without the need for dyes.
The Peruvian government does everything it can to preserve the vicuña population since their numbers were reduced to just 5,000 in 1960. Because of this, the collection and export of vicuña wool is heavily regulated. Vicunas must be caught in the wild and can only be sheared every two years and no more than five times during their lifetime. The long and strict production process makes it the most expensive and rare wool in the world, costing up to $3,000 per yard.