Merino Wool: the Spanish Monarchy’s hidden treasure
Merino wool is an exquisite fibre that has a storied past. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the only place you can find merino wool is in Spain, where the sheep of this exquisite fibre originated. For centuries, the Spanish monarchy tightly controlled the export of the merino sheep and therefore, its prized fibre, for it was unique and no other fibre quite compared to the exceptional quality fabric that was produced using this gift from nature. It was after all, quite literally, worth its weight in gold.
After the Spanish monopoly over merino ended in the 18the century, the merino sheep was allowed to be raised elsewhere other than Spain. Although in the beginning, it only appeared in the royal courts of the most distinguished European monarchical families such as France and the Netherlands, it eventually found its most natural home in Australasia, where the climate and environment provided the perfect breeding ground for this type of sheep.
What is Merino Wool?
Merino wool comes for the merino sheep - a special breed of sheep that yields an extremely fine, soft wool. Its fineness is also what makes the fibres so soft. Not only this, merino wool is resilient, so whilst being soft, it is tough and hardwearing. As a result of these qualities, the fibre is highly regarded and most ideal for the creation of luxury, high performance knitwear and woven fabrics. It is for this reason, that many outdoor apparel producers use merino to produce their sporting gear.
Colhay’s Extrafine Merino: the Crème de la Crème of Merino Wool Fibres
What makes merino wool “extra fine”? As with everything we create, we are adamant that only the very best of the best is used, because we believe in the return to an older philosophy of garment making when quality was prioritised above all else, and longevity was a virtue that trumped all other considerations.
Although merino wool is already the finest compared to other types of wool, within the world of merino, there are still different grades. Generally speaking, merino wool is under 22 microns, and the lower that number is, the finer the fibre is, and therefore the softer the resulting garment will be. Extrafine merino denotes merino wool fibres that are 19.5 microns or under - an extremely fine and rare merino fibre that are reserved only for the finest luxury garments. 22 microns v 19.5 microns are extremely fine margins and cannot be seen with the naked eye, but it is the difference between a good fibre, and an exceptional fibre.
Extrafine merino is characterised by an exquisitely soft and silky, yet substantial hand feel, so whilst it is remarkably comfortable against the skin like silk, there is a bounciness, a resilience to the knitted fabric that makes garments made in this material incredibly comfortable for day to day wear because it keeps it shape well and “bounces” back if stretched.
Given its temperature regulating properties, far above any other materials, extra fine merino is also perfect for garments that are either designed to be worn on its own in warmer temperatures, keeping the wearer cool when hot; or worn as an under layer, keeping the wearer exceptionally warm in colder temperatures.
Cashwool® by Zegna Baruffa Lane Borgosesia
Cashwool® is the name given to the extra merino yarn produced by Zegna Baruffa lane Borgosesia, and it is regarded in the industry as the world’s highest quality extrafine merino yarn. It is the only merino yarn that is made entirely in Italy.
Zegna Baruffa is an Italian yarn spinner and a titan in the industry, with a history dating back to 1850. Over the last 170 years, they have risen in prominence through their consistent obsession in the pursuit of ever finer fibres and better manufacturing techniques, culminating in its claim to fame in the 1980s, when they pioneered the world’s finest merino yarn ever produced, which they aptly dubbed “Cashwool®”. As its name suggests, it has a softness comparable to cashmere, and a hand feel as smooth as silk; not only that, its luminosity and fastness (the ability to take and maintain colour quality without fading over time) is without compare.
The secret behind the prominence of Cashwool® lies in Zegna Baruffa’s meticulous quality control in picking only the very finest merino wool fibres; this is coupled with Zegna Baruffa’s superior technological innovation in yarn spinning, meaning that only the very finest merino yarns are produced. Their long tenure within the industry means they have the most sophisticated channels in securing the world’s very finest extra fine merino fibres. Given the highly prized nature of the yarn, it is the reserve mostly of luxury high performance apparel.
We are proud to be among the fortunate few to use Cashwool® to produce our extra fine merino garments.
The Difference between Superfine Lambswool and Extrafine Merino
You might have realised that some of our garments are made using what’s called “superfine lambswool” whilst others are made using “extra fine merino” - but what’s the difference?
Although the raw superfine lambswool and extrafine merino fibres are quite similar in terms of their nature and quality (both extremely fine and long wool fibres, both rare and exquisitely soft), their key difference lies in the finishing of the fibres.
Superfine lambswool yarn is “woollen spun”, meaning that it is finished in a way that retains the natural woolly texture in the yarn, resulting in a garment that, whilst being soft against the skin, has a fuzzier hand feel, more akin to what you would normally associate with lambswool garments.
On the other hand extrafine merino yarn is “worsted spun”, meaning that it is finished in a way that gives the yarn a silky soft texture, making it perfect for garments that are worn directly on the skin. In that regard, it has a more refined look and feel, whereas superfine lambswool has a more rugged, casual touch.
This is why we have chosen to use superfine lambswool for our chunkier garments, such as the superfine lambswool shawl collar cardigan, our cable rollnecks and crew necks, as well as our cricket sweaters, whilst for our sport shirts and henley shirts that are meant to be worn on the skin, we’ve used Zegna Baruffa’s exquisite extrafine merino from their prestigious Cashwool® range.