What does a £495 pair of socks feel like?


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “What does a £495 pair of socks feel like?” was written by Dean Kissick, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th October 2014 15.10 UTC

The other day I received an invitation to come and review “the latest luxury sock to come to London”. Released in a limited edition of only 10 by German knitwear designers Falke, each pair costs a staggering £495 and is made of the vicuña wool once favoured by Incan royalty. Could they possibly be worth it, or am I having the wool pulled over my eyes?

£495 Vicuna socks by Falke
£495 Vicuna socks by Falke. Photograph: Falke

Most likely I will never walk the world’s most expensive dog (a £1.2m Tibetan mastiff) nor chop an onion with the world’s most expensive kitchen knife (a £63,000 Nesmuk Jahrhundertmesser) but today I can try one of the world’s most expensive socks. Surprisingly, they’re not actually the world’s most expensive, as Harrys of London sells an £895 pair made from the down of the New Zealand red deer, but they’re less of a gimmick and – what’s more – they’re new in-store.

Knitted from the wool of Peru’s national animal the vicuña (of which much more later), they’re only stocked in London’s Selfridges until Christmas, as an outrageously luxurious stocking-filler for the dad/oligarch/ sultan who has everything. Contrary to popular belief, some men like receiving socks as presents; my otherwise miserable flatmate says one of his favourite feelings in the world is pulling open a new pack of socks, popping the plastic asunder. Myself, I love putting on a new pair of socks for the first time, so I travel into Central London prepared for a world of sensual delights

These £495 socks come in a wooden presentation case adorned with Falke’s founders’ signatures. They are naturally coffee-coloured and they’re soft, very soft; but actually, not as soft as I was expecting. Vicuña wool is the finest available at 12 microns thick, but then cashmere measures only 15 microns and is available on every high street. The harsh sock critic within thinks these could be softer, and possibly more golden in colour too, at that price, but on the other hand if it’s good enough for Incan kings then …

Earlier in the morning I spoke to a wool expert and she advised me to sniff the socks, so sniff them I do – these are clean socks so it’s not that perverted – and they smell amazing, woody like a cedar forest, like the Andean mountain meadows that they came from maybe. I think I can detect hints of caramel and llama but I was most likely imagining those. Anyway, smelling super-expensive socks is pretentious, also weird, but in the calming setting of a PR company’s reception it’s more-or-less acceptable.

The best thing about these socks is that they’re vicuña, the national animal of Peru that lives in the high alpine passes of the Andes. It’s the thinking man’s llama, the sybarite’s alpaca, and unlike these beasts it has never been domesticated; a vicuña will always escape. They roam the mountains and can only be shorn every few years, so the harvesting of their wool is highly sustainable. Occasionally, they are worshipped with an ancient wedding ritual in which two of the animals must drink each other’s blood, but they’re always released back into the wild.

Shy and graceful, with long necks and doe-like eyes, vicuña are the supermodels of the camelid family, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that the fashion industry has honoured them so expensively. According to tradition, the animal is the reincarnation of a young, gorgeous girl who was seduced by an old, ugly king, and rewarded with a golden fleece. In the past it was prohibited by Incan law for anyone except royals to wear vicuña, but now it is, well, available in Selfridges for anyone with lots and lots of money. Which is progress of sorts.

I usually wear lambswool blend socks from M&S, which are four for £15 and much more affordable than those German-Peruvian frivolities. But in the interests of luxury wool-reviewing, and patriotism, I also try a pair of the North Circular’s £119 dip-dye socks on my way home.

These may be the most British socks ever. Designed with a Kitchener Stitch – a more seamless sock pattern that was, supposedly, invented by Lord Herbert Kitchener for the comfort of soldiers in the first world war – they are hand-knitted by grannies using the wool of the endangered Wensleydale sheep; a rare and naturally be-dreaded breed that looks rather like Roma striker Gervinho. These are thicker and cosier, and ideal for the coming long winter nights, but then they don’t smell quite as exotic. They smell of sheep.

Socks are one of life’s small pleasures, and need not be turned into extravagances. £495 a pair is far too much, but then that’s the point. So if there’s someone in your life who somehow deserves to be treated like an Incan royal, then a pair of vicuña socks is far more acceptable than, say, a sacrifice. They are nice socks, and vicuña are very cool animals; as are Wensleydale sheep.

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