Textile Designer Sandra Jordan's Search for the World's Softest Fiber Leads to Peruvian Alpacas
Growing up as the daughter of a diplomat in Peru, Sandra Jordan was taught the national legacy of the ancient alpaca. Considered “the gold of the Andes,” alpaca fleece, with its legendary softness, was reserved for the use of Incan royalty. But Jordan’s own impression of the fiber fell short of its lofty history: At the local farmers’ markets she visited with her mother, the fleece she found was scratchy and rough. This textural disconnect between the ideal and the real made an imprint on young Jordan, one that would later inspire her own storied journey.
Years later, living in Northern California as creative director of Jordan Winery, Jordan was embarking on the design of bespoke fabrics for the property’s guest suites when she came across an article on Peruvian alpaca: A researcher had determined that certain alpaca had at one point been bred with the far less sumptuously fleeced llama, resulting in a rougher fiber—the type Jordan had encountered as a child.
Armed with this new information, the designer confirmed that she could achieve fibers with that fabled softness by working only with alpaca with a good genetic pedigree. She also determined that shearing the very first coat from yearlings, or cria—essentially giving them their first haircut—produced the softest, lightest, airiest fibers. “That’s when I named everything Prima Alpaca,” says Jordan.
This first set of fabrics she designed for the winery evolved into her eponymous collection, which launched in 2005. Building on that original line, in 2013 Jordan introduced a line of sheers, and this year she debuted three new ranges: lustrous Prima Alpaca Sateens; Prima Alpaca Suri, a luscious fabric crafted from the fleece of the extremely rare Suri alpaca; and Prima Alpaca Millennium, a limited edition of five jacquard fabrics and throws inspired by indigenous motifs.
The collection showcases Jordan’s contemporary interpretation of iconic Peruvian symbols and includes Millennium Nazca Flowers, inspired by the magnificent geoglyphs of the Nazca culture, and Millennium Wari, an homage to the geometric motifs of the Pre-Columbian civilization. The highlight of the collection is perhaps, however, Millennium Cave Alpacas, a throw inspired by 6,000-year-old paintings found at the Toquepala Caves in Southeastern Peru. By invoking these first-known depictions of alpaca, Jordan has come full circle, picking up the thread of memory of a young girl fascinated by an ancient story who is now weaving with, as they were called by the Incan Empire, the “Clouds on Earth.”
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: The Clouds on Earth.