Vicuna Cloth- the World’s Costliest Fabric

From a 1937 booklet entitled “The Story of Vicuna, The World’s Finest Fabric” by Sylvan Stroock, president of S. Stroock & Company-

“…Based on the present price of the cloth, men’s vicuna topcoats such as are made by The Hickey Freeman Co., (who make the world’s finest ready-made clothing) would sell at retail for $400.00 and overcoats made of Stroock heavy weight vicuna cloth would sell at $1,000.00”

In today’s dollars, that overcoat would sell for about $18,000. That is about in line with today’s market- the last time Hickey Freeman made vicuna overcoats for Saks Fifth Avenue, some fifteen to twenty years ago, the retail price was somewhere around $20,000, the equivalent, in today’s dollars, of around $33,000.

“Unsurpassed in its softness and beauty, the lovely coat of the Vicuna eclipses that of every animal on earth, its fleece being beyond all question the finest ever placed at the disposal of the weaver…

Extremely strong, resilient, and having a marked degree of elasticity and surface cohesion, the fibres of the vicuna are the finest of any known animal, being less than one two-thousandths of an inch in diameter, with a count of approximately 2,500 to the inch, which is less than one half the diameter of the finest sheep’s wool….

…Pure vicuna cloth, as manufactured by Stroock, requires the hair of no less than 40 animals to make sufficient cloth for a single coat.”

The rarest of all cloth now comes to us in an even rarer form- a pristine overcoat made of pure vicuna cloth by the aforementioned Hickey Freeman Co. (my current employer) in 1970.

F.R. Tripler was one of a number of retailers which came to be owned by Hickey Freeman; during the depression, in lieu of the payments which certain retailers were unable to make, Hickey Freeman accepted partial, and eventually complete ownership.
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers merged with another union in 1976 and this label ceased to be used. The lot number allows us to date this coat to 1970.
The styling of this coat is such that it could be worn today, though if I had my way, it would be carefully preserved in a museum, rather than worn. Hand sewn buttonholes and real horn buttons are concealed by the fly.
One of the first parts of a garment to show wear- the hand-finished armhole, is in perfect condition.
The neck and the shoulders are equally clean
The hem and storm tab are pristine.

The current owner, who inherited it from his father in 1986, lives in California and has no practical use for it. Honestly, I wish I had a budget to acquire pieces like this for conservation. As I don’t (and my own personal finances do not permit it either), I will at least help it to find a proper home in the hands of someone who will appreciate this exceedingly rare garment.

Interested parties are invited to contact me and I will make an introduction; I am not receiving any kind of financial consideration in the transaction.

4 Replies to “Vicuna Cloth- the World’s Costliest Fabric

  1. Hi Jeffery,
    interesting coat. Some years ago I spotted a black Chester Barrie coat on Ebay – made for Harrods, and ridiculously cheap at 200 $. Fascinating fabric, mix of vicuna, cashmere and silk, very light, nearly windproof and really warm. Fortunately, I live in a city where I have the opportunity to actually wear it.

  2. Very interesting. My grandmother was a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), which eventually merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU), a part of the prior merger you mentioned. When the two big clothing and textile unions merged into UNITE (Union of Needle International Trades Employees), they soon found themselves with a lot of money, a bank, and very few members. So, they merged with The Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HERE) to form UNITE HERE!, which quickly was no longer an acronym. It became just a slogan. Eventually, a lot of the remaining textile workers split back off and formed Workers United. UNITE HERE! still has a small group of clothing and textile workers, including, I believe Hickey Freeman and HSM.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *