Location: Knightsbridge, London
A little bit of a different kind of post for you today. A few months ago, I was introduced to the luxurious world of Basilissa – a London-based company that create beautiful pieces made of vicuna wool. For those that have never heard of this before, think of the softness and comfort that you get from wearing cashmere and double it. On the other hand, you may have heard about vicuna wool being referred to as ‘the wool that is worth more than gold’. So what is it about this cinnamon-coloured wool that luxury brands adore? And who is Basilissa? I had the pleasure of wearing both their shawl and smaller squared scarf (yet to be released), and knowing that I was wearing something so delicate and exquisite was the most empowering feeling. Appropriate when the meaning of Basilissa is in fact female monarch, but more on that below.
Vicuna wool is naturally obtained from vicunas – the smaller cousin of the llama that lives in the high alpine areas of the Andes. Vicunas produce very small quantities of very fine wool, which is why it is considered the most prestigious of all speciality wools. The vicunas are wild, where the same vicuna can only be sheared once every two years in what is known as the ‘Chaccu’ – an annual Peruvian herding ritual where the animals are caught from the wild, tagged and sheared. Once shorn, the vicunas are released back into the wild and the wool fibre is then spun into thread. The thread is then used to create an extremely lightweight, soft and deliciously luxurious wool that Basilissa has turned into beautiful garments to add to your wardrobe.
As you would expect, the wool is pricey given the rarity. Fun fact for you: under Incan rule, vicuna wool was only worn by royalty! Back then, and today, these animals were and are protected by law. This was not always the case though. The vicunas were hunted in between these two points in time and in 1974 were actually considered endangered, with only about 6,000 of them left in the wild. The trade of vicuna wool was prohibited. Today, thanks to brands like Basilissa that ethically source the vicuna wool and through active conservation programs, the population of vicunas has fortunately increased to around 500,000.
Basilissa are a London-based firm founded by South American women who are devoted to showcasing the beauty of their heritage and vicuna wool, through elegant and classic garments to complement any look. True timeless pieces to be worn for years. What I loved most about Basilissa is the absolute attention to detail across all aspects of the garment and its production. One collection is released a year, with each of their garments being produced in limited capsules of 100 items, all referenced by a unique series number. No design has more than one production run. The level of detail also extends to the beautiful box the shawl is delivered in – made of cedar wood so that the aroma protects it from any moth damage and with a clasp that ensures that the shawl does not catch when opening or closing the box. It allows you to roll the shawl to avoid any creases or pleats.
I loved learning about how everything is done to the highest ethical standards, from the shearing of the vicuna wool, to the employment of local workers. During the shearing process, the vicunas are herded together, after which a group of veterinarians, local communities, Washington Convention and Governmental representatives each play a part in the shearing process.
Their first collection is the alluring ‘Empress Collection’. After all, the meaning of the Greek term ‘Basilissa’ has signified female monarchs over the course of history, so it was only fitting that the first collection was named as such. Fourteen suede stars add that final touch of elegance. The stars are hand stitched onto both sides of the shawl. I’ve been fortunate enough to wear Basilissa’s vicuna pieces in both summer (only we didn’t really have one in London this year…) and in autumn. Its lightweight texture makes it cool enough for milder days, but warm enough for when things get chillier. The larger shawl can be worn in a variety of ways: as a traditional scarf, draped over the shoulders from the front or back or even with a chunky belt to create more of a poncho’d look.
Each piece is fully customisable using organic dyes and precious metals. I’ve had the privilege of viewing a shawl embellished with custom gold leaf detail and it just took that feeling of luxury to another level. For further information on how you can purchase your very own piece of South American history, book an appointment with Basilissa by contacting them on firstname.lastname@example.org. I truly hope you loved learning about this rare, exquisite material and the beautiful Basilissa brand.