Loro Piana is like a secret code word. Mention it to passers-by on the streets and you’ll get a blank stare. But utter it in the right circles—a chateau in St Moritz, over drinks at a Manhattan speakeasy or during dinner with fashion insiders—and you’ll unlock a torrent of adoration. Superlatives the likes of ‘divine’, ‘delicious’ and ‘addictive’ pepper conversation and, almost always, are combined with the word ‘cashmere’. In short, Loro Piana is to cashmere what Lamborghini is to supercars—Italian prowess mixed with equal parts passion and prestige.
For years, the cashmere story of Loro Piana has remained under wraps. A secret that the company has, quietly and painstakingly, perfected through its Loro Piana Method—that is, increasing quality and yield of cashmere fibres through fewer goats—in order to improve the livelihood of breeders in Inner Mongolia where the goats are raised, while also conserving and protecting the industry for generations to come.
However, in a first for the company, Loro Piana is now shedding light on the origins of its cashmere through a specially commissioned docu-film created by Oscar-winning filmmaker, Luc Jacquet, entitled The Origin of a Secret.
After the worldwide debut of the 20-minute film in Shanghai—the first of three docu-films; the other two by Jacquet will focus on Loro Piana’s expertise with merino wool in Australia and vicūna fibres in Peru—Esquire sat down with the French filmmaker to talk about the emotional heart of the cashmere story, the importance of sustainability and what makes good storytelling.
ESQ: You’re very selective with the projects you undertake. What attracted you to this project to document the cashmere story for Loro Piana?
LUC JACQUET: Each film is an adventure. What I really need to be involved in a project is to feel something from the people I’m working with, feel something with the landscape and with the subject itself. For me, I was an absolute beginner in the world of cashmere and the fashion industry, so I was very curious to see how it all works. I was also fascinated by the location itself—Inner Mongolia is a dream.
ESQ: When it comes to cashmere, there are so many stories to tell—from the breeders to the goats to the landscape itself. How did you decide on the protagonist or narrative for your docu-film?
LUC JACQUET: It’s not like a feature film where you have huge pressure for distribution and there’s a lot expectation. For me, the big challenge was to find a way to talk about cashmere and the breeders without using the classical voiceover or resorting to the traditional documentary format; so in that respect, It was very tricky, challenging and exciting. I wanted to story to naturally unfold.
ESQ: What is your earliest memory of Loro Piana?
LUC JACQUET: My first contact with the brand was on this project. I have come to understand that it’s an Italian brand that really focuses on excellence; it is always trying to find the highest quality. I am the same when it comes to my films so we had a common ground.
ESQ: Before watching the film, I was almost expecting a National Geographic style documentary that was more informative than inspiring. But now, having seen the 20-minute film, I am impressed by how cinematic the whole experience is. What emotion did you want your audience to feel?
LUC JACQUET: Personally, one of the most spectacular and emotional things was seeing how the goats are able to survive in very harsh conditions and in very remote country. Till you understand this point of view, you don’t fully appreciate how miraculous it is for the herdsman and goats to co-exist. They really are dependent on each other to survive.
ESQ: Is there anything you learnt from the herdsmen and breeders in the creation of this film that was a surprise to you?
LUC JACQUET: It was my first time in Mongolia. I think when you are living in Europe there is a dream to go to Mongolia; it is the dream of many Europeans. I was very surprised by their welcome and by their passion. It is interesting because when you travel like I do, year after year, you find a way to communicate with people without speaking their language; you find a way to share something.
The bond with the breeders was very strong. We had interpreters with us, but sometimes you need to have direct contact with the people just to say, “I am very happy to be with you”. After we wrapped the film, one of the elders gave me a camel. It was a very special gift, but I had to leave it with them because what am I going to do with a camel in Europe?
ESQ: You must have had hours upon hours of film. How did you decide on what made the final cut?
LUC JACQUET: At a certain point, you just feel things are balanced and you stop editing. It’s hard to explain as it is truly intuitive and instinctive. It comes to a point where if you remove or add something else, you are going to need to re-edit everything again. The goal for me is to always find a balance. And once I have achieved that, I don’t like to go back and re-edit otherwise it can be an endless process.
ESQ: Now you have the benefit of hindsight, looking back at this experience and the film, what do you think is at the heart of The Origin Of A Secret story?
LUC JACQUET: It is a collision of cashmere, the people and the brand itself. You cannot disconnect the cashmere with the people, for sure, because they need each other to survive. It was very interesting because I felt that the people were very remote; it’s as though they were living in the corner of the world. For the goats, just like the people, they have to evolve to be able to survive in the extreme heat and cold. Evolution is so ‘well done’ and at the end you have exactly the right equilibrium.
ESQ: Have you had a chance to speak to any of the herdsmen after they saw the film? What was their feedback?
LUC JACQUET: They are very proud. It’s a huge responsibility to show the film to the herdsmen and people captured in the documentary because they trusted us while we took their time and the time of the goats. So for me, it is very important that they are happy because the film should showcase their life in the best way possible.
ESQ: What do you want viewers to take away from this film?
LUC JACQUET: That evolution can produce amazing things. Looking back, it's interesting to see the journey of these wonderful fibres from remote Mongolia travelling all the way to the shelves of beautiful fashion houses and then into the homes of customers. And the greet thing is, this whole process is sustainable. Loro Piana proves that sustainability and good business can co-exist.
ESQ: What visuals from the film stick in your mind?
LUC JACQUET: The men riding their horses in the mountains and singing. It was fascinating to see these guys always on the top of the mountains, looking around and taking care of the goats. I felt it was very poetic. Their way of life is very admirable.
ESQ: Do you now look at Loro Piana products in a totally different light?
LUC JACQUET: Yes, and I hope that this film will do that for viewers too. Appreciating cashmere is one thing, but understanding how it is grown, harvested and then turned into garments is another thing. For me, cashmere garments are now more precious and have more meaning because I have seen the whole process of creating such a garment.
ESQ: The Origin of a Secret is one of three docu-films that you’re creating for Loro Piana. You will also be capturing the journey of merino wool production in Australia and vicūna in Peru. Are you conscious in making sure that the three films are similar in terms of treatment and feel?
LUC JACQUET: Fortunately, they will all be very different as the fibres themselves are all very different. To be honest, I don't know yet. The spirit of the film can be found in the editing room, so I'll leave all doors open at the moment.
ESQ: What makes good storytelling?
LUC JACQUET: There are thousands of books written about how to tell a good story. It’s something that you feel in your body, in your mind, you feel when the story is fluid. I am able to feel when there is something wrong, it is really intuitive. There are many directors and each have their own method but, for myself, it comes down to instinct.
ESQ: On that note, what is Luc Jacquet signature when it comes to storytelling?
LUC JACQUET: I think I have a spatial sense of beauty and I am very sensitive to this.
ESQ: And you really trust your audience and let them connect the dots…
LUC JACQUET: This is very true; I like to consider my audience as smart. I hate TV direction now that overloads everything with explanation, it makes very easy TV. But for me, part of the storytelling is being confident in the power of the audience to connect the story themselves. There are many ways to tell, and read, a story.
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