What do the most high tech, futuristic of all sailing competitions and the most natural of fibres have in common? At first sight nothing at all. And yet there is a strong thread, if you will forgive the pun, that connects the America’s Cup with wool.
Merino wool, to be exact. We might start, for example, with sustainability. The fuel that powers the new AC75 monohulls is none other than wind, while wool is grown very naturally by sheep. If that alone were not enough, we could talk about performance.
The new boats being used in the America’s Cup are essentially the Formula Ones of the sea capable of making upwind speeds of around 30 knots and downwind speeds of up to 50 knots. In short, the R&D that went into them focused on really pushing performance to the limits. The same applies to wool, oddly enough. Of late, progress in processing wool has delivered unimaginable benefits.
The result is that wool now clothes athletes at the very top of many sports. The America’s Cup is no exception to that phenomenon. «What better platform than this event to communicate to the world the properties and content of Merino wool?” commented Global Strategy Advisor to The Woolmark Company, a not-for-profit organisation that works alongside Australia’s 60,000 woolgrowers to research, develop and market Australian wool along the entire supply chain worldwide.
Hence the partnership with the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team which, in the words of Prada Group Head of Marketing and Communication Lorenzo Bertelli, is based on a shared philosophy inspired by innovation, researching new materials and social responsibility.
Wool is thus celebrating a very stylish return to the bigtime in sport at the very highest levels. It has always played a central role throughout sporting history, in fact.
«Until the 70s, wool dominated all disciplines: from football to cycling jerseys and winter sports. Everyone only wore wool kit,” continues Serventi. The leap in quality only came recently, however. «Compared to 20 years ago, this fibre has achieved unthinkable levels of sophistication in terms of its properties, » explains Serventi, adding: «That result was made possible by progress in the various stages of processing the wool and by using increasingly sophisticated technologies».
That change of gear is clear to the touch but this collaboration with the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli has brought significant new impetus to the whole area.
«The Italian team played an active role in designing and developing the apparel that the crew would be wearing both in training ashore and when they actually went out on the water,» says Serventi. «We listened to their needs and then honed the best solutions. It was a real shared team effort that took about a year of work to complete,» he concludes.
«Our physical activity is very demanding in terms of clothing: the garments we wear must be as isothermal, elastic, breathable and water-resistant as possible.” stresses Team Director Max Sirena, who continues: «I have now discovered that Merino wool is the best thing to be next to my skin. It is a genuine performance fabric in addition to being sustainable and biodegradable. I have to admit that our uniforms were a fantastic surprise and keep us feeling great both physically and mentally».
Each Merino wool fibre is just 17 microns thick – that is 17 thousandths of a millimetre to the uninitiated. However, each fibre also hides a whole wealth of Mother Nature’s own technology. Unlike synthetic fabrics, Merino wool wicks water vapour particles away from the skin, with the result that the microclimate on the skin stays drier.
Also in hot training conditions, Merino wool wicks away 25% more sweat than synthetics which keeps the skin microclimate cooler. All of these properties and others besides are to be found in the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli uniform which comprises a waterproof jacket, soft shell jacket, polo shirt, T-shirt, wet jacket, blouson, wetsuit and base-layers.