Dear Diva Readers,
Have you ever been curious what makes cashmere so special and so expensive? Or what the difference is between pashmina and cashmere? Or why one shawl marked “pashmina” is labeled 5 euros and another marked several hundred euros?
Following you’ll find a Guest Blog from Isabelle Caifinger, the gorgeous French founder of the Amsterdam-based “open by appointment only” store The Cashmere Touch. Isabelle answers all your cashmere questions and then some in this Antiques Diva Exclusive – The Cashmere Queen Tells All!
While pashminas are a fashion passion of mine (see me at right wearing a pashmina at an Amsterdam charity auction last year), they’ve also become a diva decorating staple! I recently recommended to an Antiques Diva Decorating Client that she buy one of Isabelle’s gorgeous shawls to frame and hang on her wall as art work! I’m not the only one who has had this idea… touch.com/MENU-MAIN/press.html” target=”_blank”>Residence magazine, the premier Dutch decorating magazine, has featured Isabelle’s work as well as Elle Decoration! And by the way, one last secret before I say Ta Ta from Me and Bonjour from The Cashmere Queen – Isabelle’s secret supplier is also supplying another high-end store that you might recognize by its little orange box!
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So, Ta Ta from me, The Antiques Diva and Bonjour from Isabelle – The Cashmere Queen!
The Cashmere Touch
Have you ever wondered where cashmere comes from, how it gets its softness and why it is threatened as a natural fiber?
As you know, there are different qualities of cashmere offered in the market, mostly from Nepal. Most are blended with regular wool or silk and yet it is called “pashmina or cashmere”. However just the weight and feel of the material you have in your hands will tell you about the quality. When a shawl is hanging somewhere and it says “Pashmina – Only 5 Euros” you know automatically that you are being lied to! If it’s priced 5 Euros, then clearly it’s not really Pashmina!
WHAT IS PASHMINA?
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Few people know that “Pashmina” and “Cashmere” are the same!Pashmina is the thin undercoat of a Himalayan goat known as the « Changra goat », which grazes the arid plateaus of Ladakh, Tibet, and Mongolia at an altitude of 13,500 feet (4,500 meters). In response to freezing winters, the goat develops very soft and thick wool, which is carefully combed out during the summer. The tougher the winter, the thinner, the warmer and the more beautiful the under hair: this is why a Pashmina shawl floats on the shoulders, while being as warm as a coat. The precious animals are raised in herds and coddled by their nomadic goat keepers: the Pashmina wool should not be mistaken with the banned and controversial «Shatoosh», which comes from a wild Tibetan antelope which needs to be killed to get its fur and has therefore become a dying species.
Few people know that Pashmina & Cashmere are the same!
Kashmir’s history is closely associated with the Pashmina fiber. The valley of Kashmir and its lake city of Srinagar are set in the splendid Himalayan range and the shawl industry sustains thousands of rural families who live in sheer isolation. Since Mughal times, the Kashmiris have developed unique spinning and weaving skills. The wool is acquired from neighboring Ladakh (still 14 hours away from the Kashmir valley) and spun into a gossamer yarn by women, at home.
The fiber is so fine it can only be spun by HAND: its diameter ranges from 12 to 14 microns (the average diameter of a human hair is about 70 microns). It then takes about two months to mount the yarn on the loom and about a month to weave a shawl, a manual work exclusively done by men.In the 1990’s Nepal invaded the world with pale imitations, often mixed fibers with artificial or natural silk, nothing comparable with pashmina or true cashmere. However everything was called “pashmina” which became synonymous with wool. Other countries tried to raise the “Cashmere” goat at a lower altitude and in a different environment: the harvested wool often proved thicker and coarser. Knowing and acknowledging the true value of a Pashmina shawl from Kashmir contributes to the struggle of local artisans -men and women- to retain their exclusive skills, to maintain the reputation of a unique industry and to keep intact the fame of the amazing Changra goat.
Cashmere is threatened by that fact that the new generation is not interested in this manual and intensive labor and chooses to go live in cities. Yet the demand for this quality of cashmere is increasing rapidly, therefore prices are climbing. It is not possible to trademark the word “Pashmina”; people are tempted to call anything and everything “Pashmina”, to capitalize on this demand. This is a reason why one should be careful when buying a cashmere item. If it were possible to trade-mark the word “Pashmina”, it should take into consideration the animal species used, the way it grazes and at which altitude (the same species grazing at a lower altitude develops a much grosser, less refined fiber), the fleece quality and that of the underneath under hair layer. It should also take into consideration the process of the wool transformation meaning the artisanal techniques used and the craftsmen dexterity working and weaving the Pashmina. Indian Cashmere has the most gifted craftsmen with the most experience, who have through centuries given the Pashm
ina an incomparable texture and softness.
The New Cashmere Throw:
Working with our exclusive craftsmen in Kashmir for the past few years, we at The Cashmere Touch have now developed new products such as luxurious cashmere throws, blankets and ponchos. It is the first time that craftsmen from Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir weave something else than a shawl in this particular quality. There is nothing comparable in quality in the market today, other cashmere throws come from Nepal or China have been standardized and have a different feel and warmth.
touch.com/” target=”_blank”>The Cashmere Touch