Loro Piana embraces the metaverse to enhance its unique take on quiet luxury

The company is harnessing technology to promote transparency and traceability across its high-end clothing and accessories

Exclusive to Loro Piana is the world's lightest sheep's wool – the gift of kings. Photo: Loro Piana
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To celebrate the opening of its new boutique in Palo Alto, California, Loro Piana unveiled a number of new initiatives aimed at bridging its distinct brand of discreet luxury with the metaverse. In addition to the sleek new space, perfectly restrained in pale oak and muted caramels, the company unveiled a limited-edition capsule collection, new blockchain technology and an NFT.

Since it was founded in Quarona, Italy in 1924, Loro Piana has dedicated itself to crafting understated clothing from some of the most extraordinary materials in the world. Cashmere, vicuna and merino wool are the bedrock of its creations, which cater to a discerning customer that demands exceptional quality, but low-key, classic styling.

Such savoir faire may seem like an odd fit for Palo Alto, which, at first glance, is a small, sleepy town, seemingly trapped in the 1950s, with unexpectedly sketchy Wi-Fi. But behind this archaic facade, Palo Alto is home to the headquarters of Apple, Meta, Google, PayPal and Tesla, making it ground zero for all things futuristic.

For the opening of the new boutique, Loro Piana released a limited collection of 20 designs – 10 each for men and women. There were T-shirts, loose-fit trousers and double-faced coats, in subtle hues of buttermilk and crisp, pale blue, made from one of Loro Piana’s most precious materials, named the Gift of Kings.

With its rich, velvety texture, the material feels more akin to brushed silk than wool. It is, however, a type of merino. Its name stems from its history, when merino sheep were the sole property of 16th century Spanish monarchs and were closely guarded for their soft, light wool. The kings would gift a pair of breeding merinos to fellow sovereigns as a token of friendship, while any attempt to steal an animal was punishable by death.

By the late 1700s, Spain began relaxing its monopoly, and the sheep were transported to countries around the world, eventually leading to different variations, such as Gentile di Puglia from Italy and the Rambouillet from France. Arriving in New Zealand and Australia in the final years of the 18th century, the sheep have thrived in the cold and hilly terrains of the countries, and today, the finest merino wool comes from the antipodes.

With its long, soft fibres, merino wool is measured in microns. One micron is equivalent to one millionth of a metre, or 0.001mm. Wool more than 22.6 microns is considered strong and used for upholstery, as well as car and airline seats. Wool of 20.6 to 22.5 microns is classed as medium and used for light suiting and knitwear, while fine wool is 18.6 to 19.5 microns and soft enough to be worn next to the skin.

Superfine wool is 17.6 to 18.5 microns; ultrafine comes in at 16.1 to 17.5 microns. Gift of Kings measures only 12 microns. Human hair, in comparison, is between 60 and 70 microns.

This level of delicacy is not naturally occurring, but the result of three decades of selective breeding orchestrated by Loro Piana. As the fashion industry shifted towards mass appeal, Loro Piana instead doubled down on the needs of its select clientele, gambling that this niche audience would always appreciate the very finest products on the market.

Seeking out the most pioneering merino farmers across Australia and New Zealand, the brand identified 30 farms that shared its vision, and tasked them with creating the softest, lightest fleece imaginable. As the only company in the world with access to Gift of Kings, Loro Piana created the Record Bale scheme, to support these farmers. The company is committed to buying the thinnest bale each year, irrespective of price. To date, the record bale for Gift of Kings stands at only 10.3 microns.

To demonstrate how extraordinary this material is, Loro Piana decorated the new Palo Alto store with great clouds of carded fleece, as flighty as candy floss. Light enough to stir in the air disturbed by someone strolling by, the creamy fibres were too delicate to register on my hand when touched. Human fingertips, it seems, are not sensitive enough to respond to Gift of Kings. Yet, the fibre is surprisingly resilient, and is warm in winter and cool in summer. With correct care, it will last for decades, and customers are already passing pieces down to the next generation.

As a vertically integrated company, Loro Piana has direct control over every aspect of its production, from the farms where the fleece is shorn, to the factory where fibres are woven into butter-soft cashmere blankets or vicuna wraps. Nothing is outsourced to third parties. This gives it a uniquely precise overview, down to what its Peruvian vicuna camelids are enjoying for lunch.

Now, the company is opening this business model up to public scrutiny, by recording every step on blockchain. With nothing to hide, but plenty to be proud of, it is throwing open the shutters on its production processes, in the name of transparency, traceability and sustainability. To access this information, customers can simply scan the unique QR code on their Loro Piana product, to unlock every detail, down to the name of the farm where the animal from which the raw materials were sourced lives. Damien Bertrand, Loro Piana’s chief executive, says he even hopes to refine this information down to the name of the individual animal whose fleece was used in a garment “in the not too distant future”.

Often misunderstood, blockchain is a detailed record of information, albeit of a highly sophisticated nature. Divided and stored across the entire computer network rather than being held by any one entity, this vast distribution system creates a unique opportunity for iron clad fact checking, as it is impossible to alter, destroy, delete or hack into blockchain. Information can only be added, not removed. It is this immutability that makes it ideally suited to Loro Piana latest venture, allowing the house to showcase its exemplary approach at every stage of transforming wool into the finished garments it describes as “masterpieces”.

Loro Piana’s blockchain technology is powered by Aura Blockchain Consortium, founded in 2021 by five luxury groups – Mercedes Benz, Prada Group, LVMH, OTB Group and Cartier – to address issues around authenticity and transparency.

Daniela Ott, general secretary of Aura Blockchain, explains why blockchain and luxury are such perfect partners. “The idea of blockchain is to put the consumer at the centre and give them much more access to information. Loro Piana is the first to use a four contract certification and behind any garment, there are 20,000 lines of data stored in the blockchain.

“That data contains the whole story of each product – who made it, where the fibres are from, where the yarn has been spun and when it was transferred to each stage. All this information is now transparent and recorded in the blockchain forever. This is authenticity. To solidify to this immutable chain, Loro Piana will also add the customer to the blockchain, creating a unique ledger of ownership, which can be handed down through families, or used for verification when it comes to resale. Blockchain technology is young and very fast moving, but will soon be a vital component of maintaining trust between the consumer and high-end brands,” Ott says.

“Digital certificates and digital passports are going to be like a receipt, and in a couple of years, every consumer – particularly [of] luxury products – will ask for a digital certificate or a digital passport.”

Plugging into the metaverse, Loro Piana is also launching NFTs in the form of digital artworks linked to the Gift of Kings collection. British artist Charlotte Taylor was tasked with capturing “the poetic essence of Loro Piana, through the light and softness of the images”, Taylor says.

“For a brand like Loro Piana that is quite routed in tradition to go into the digital medium is something very exciting, especially with a young design studio like myself. For the NFT community, it is hugely inspiring to see someone young working with such a prominent brand, in such an innovative process.”

Updated: June 14, 2023, 4:00 PM