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Places: Biella - Italy's Wool Capital

May 17, 2017

When Luigi Amedeo, the Duke of Abruzzi, led Italy's first expedition to K2 in 1909, he became one of the first Italians to witness the hardy Himalayan yak in its native environment. As a boy, the Duke learned to climb on the slopes of Monte Bianco and Monte Rosa, peaks accessed along the Aosta Valley north of Turin, and not far from Biella, a town famed for producing some of Italy's finest wool fabrics and yarns.

The waters around Biella are naturally "soft", containing low levels of calcium and other minerals, making it ideal for washing wool and other animal fibres such as fine cashmere. Biella's position at the foothills of the Alps made the surrounding region ideal pastureland for sheep, and many mills become vertically integrated - controlling the whole supply chain from pasture to end product.

Today Biella's most famous companies, Loro Piana and Ermenegildo Zegna, are widely seen as two of the finest fabric producers in the world, but although the town has much in its favour, history was not always kind, and during the industrial revolution it needed to adapt and compete with the more advanced mechanical looms used in northern England and France, and more recently textile production in Asia. During these hard times it has been able to overcome these challenges through constant adherence to quality and innovation, and perhaps also, something magical in the water.

Luigi Amedeo was no doubt aware of Biella's importance as a wool producer, and it's highly probable he equipped himself with several wool sweaters from there for his Himalayan excursions. But its hard to imagine the Duke, as he watched groups of powerful bovines transport equipment and food to the first basecamp on K2, ever believing that the soft waters of Biella would one day combine with fine yak down to create something very special. As a man with discerning taste and a keen sense of adventure, he would have probably appreciated the fine qualities of our new Aosta Safari Blanket, and been happy to wrap himself in it to survey K2, or enjoy a winter sun-downer in the mountains near his home in Turin.

Our Aosta Safari Blanket is woven in Como from yarn spun in Biella. Once woven the blankets are then taken back to Biella for final finishing to ensure they have a beautifully luxurious hand-feel.