There's cashmere and then there's Loro Piana cashmere - at least, that's what aficionados of the soft stuff will tell you. Known for its knitwear and high-grade wools, the Italian label has become a byword for luxurious chic, sourcing fine fibres from Peru, Australia, New Zealand and Mongolia for its men's, women's and homeware lines.
When we catch up with Pier Luigi, Loro Piana's chief executive and deputy chairman, in Hong Kong, he has nothing but praise for the city. "We opened our first Asian store here. It was a bit of a trial; I was worried the climate would be too hot for our products," he says. But Hong Kong is a very international place and everybody travels. It's fabulous ... you never finish discovering its potential."
Today, the brand has 16 stores in greater China, five of which are in Hong Kong, and there are plans to expand.
"The climate in China is similar to Italy's so the product is well-perceived. Chinese consumers have cashmere in their DNA."
Cashmere is integral to Loro Piana's DNA. "It's probably one of the oldest textile companies in Italy, it was started in 1812," he explains. "We were one of several families to produce textiles at that time, before the actual brand Loro Piana was founded in 1924. My father took the chairmanship in 1936. My brother and I are the sixth generation doing this."
Originally, the brand was known for its fabrics. "When my father Pier Luigi and his brother Sergio took control in 1978 they kept the ethos. Vicuñas are like an alpaca or a llama and were endangered in the Andes not so long ago. But we encouraged farmers to shear them instead of killing them and now the population is growing," Luigi says.
Another one of its famous fabrics is baby cashmere. "It's the fibres from a goat's first shear. As with any animal, including humans, hair is finest when it belongs to a baby. It took us a long time to convince the shepherds to keep the first shear, but you can really feel the difference." The most recent discovery was found on the shores of Inle Lake in Myanmar. "It's the output of the stem of the lotus flower, it's all spun by hand, and we started production knowing that we couldn't have more than enough for 10 jackets a month. But I don't care about what it takes to make a special product."
In 1999, the brand launched ready-to-wear at its Milan and Venice stores. "We are one of the few companies that buys raw materials at the origin and takes care of the processes until they get to the most expensive stores in the world. It's a committed process, but it works well."
Clearly, it does. The brand's 140th shop opened in Moscow on Tuesday.
"I guess you could call it understated dressing. I don't want somebody to say, 'He's wearing a Loro Piana shirt.' I think things should be more subtle. We do elegant, chic and timeless."
Loro Piana also does expensive. "We don't want people to throw away our products. Fashion can be exciting for six months and then you've had enough. We don't do that."
Instead, there are immaculate men's suits, sporty jackets, women's blazers and leather goods that all whisper luxury and become addictive. "Our customers become quality maniacs!" he laughs. "They are more or less the same kind of people around the world: active, with important jobs and wealthy. They work hard and they play hard."
It was for the play time that the company started a line of casual wear, "so you can go skiing in a cashmere jacket, just the same as you would wear to the office. I love cashmere, why shouldn't I wear it skiing?"
Essentially, Loro Piana is a master of luxury.
"In Italian, the word for luxury is not such a nice one … it kind of means snobby, but they have that wrong," says Pier Luigi. "We think luxury is when you buy something and you don't think about how much it costs, you just think, 'This is the best of the best.' That's luxury. It's quality without compromise."