The Charisma of Cashmere

Winter style that is warm? Bring forth your cashmeres!

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: December 15, 2015

As I took out my pashminas from the box and lined them up in my wardrobe, I couldn’t help but feel a thrill at being able to wear them again. Winters are here, and wrapping them up around my neck or shoulders is an established, fashionable way of staying warm in this blasted snow!

The Splendor of Kashmir, Pashmina shawls, Varuna Anand

It’s remarkable how some age-old styles and materials continue to enthrall generations after generations. Much like the Nehru jacket, pashmina, or cashmere, is another invention to come from India, specifically Kashmir.

This incredibly soft, thin fabric is obtained from the underbelly of the Capra Hircus goat, generally found and now bred in the sub-zero temperature Himalayan ranges. These goats can survive in extreme temperatures of up to minus 30 degrees centigrade, which speaks for the warmth of their hair.

Corneliani Cashmere Collection 2015 for IndiaI remember from my childhood memories, merchants coming at our home, selling pashmina shawls with exquisite designs on them. While once it was a rarity, much cherished by the royals and the rich of the country, the fabric soon started becoming popular as clothing exports grew after India opened its borders. Many international brands not only adopted the fabric, but started giving it their own western spin as well.

There are still many Indian brands and companies, which continue to produce delicate cashmere wares, and selling them not only domestically, but internationally as well. You simply have to visit the retail area of a five star hotel to see the sheer perfection displayed on the windows. One such brand is Splendour of Kashmir, headed by Varuna Anand, who very kindly explained the entire process of creating such magnificent cashmere shawls. Calling them ‘Drapable Art’, she has swathed royals, politicians, industrialists and the likes with her shawls, and her designs range from traditional to contemporary.

“The entire process to make a shawl begins with procurement of the Pashmina Yarn, the sorting and spinning of the yarn, after which it is dyed in natural dyes. A warp set and subsequently a symphony of warp and weft create the shawl,” she explains. 

Burberry Cashmere Coats 2015

Once the fabric is created, it is what comes after which is the most challenging part. Doing fine extensive hand embroidery on a fragile fabric like pashmina is the real art of shawl making from Kashmir. The hours that go in embroidering these shawls patiently and creatively make them a desirable piece of art. The more the motifs, the more valuable it is. “The designs on shawls have evolved over the years, but even today, nature is the most desired theme on which these motifs are based,” Ms Anand says.

Rajesh Pratap Singh for Shingora, black skull scrafBut then, this is all a handcrafted process. Even if the designs are same, no two shawls are going to be the same. Each weaver has his or her own signature movement and way of creating magic on the pashmina. Ms Anand, therefore, tries not to dictate patterns and motifs to her weavers. “We give a broad outline in terms of color and craftsmanship to these skilled artisans and leave the rest to them. Over the years, we have accepted that playing with their temperament will only curb their creativity and hamper the end product,” she says.

Another new Indian brand, Shingora, is giving pashmina a global, contemporary look. Very recently, it partnered with Indian designer Rajesh Pratap Singh to create a collection of eclectic pashmina scarves. 

Burberry has been creating cashmere coats for a while now. This year, it expanded its cashmere coat collection to include the Kensington and Sandringham Heritage trench coat fits for men and women. Available in 10 gem-like colours, the trench coats feature check undercollars and a tonal lining for men’s styles, and unlined styles for women showcasing the coat’s fine weave and meticulous finish. Burberry also has a range of Scottish-woven cashmere scarves in coordinating colours to match with the new coats. As per a company release, Burberry has been using “cashmere in its products for over a century, employing artisan skills passed down from generations.” 

Men’s brands have made cashmere a regular part of their collections now. Canali, for example, has a Double Cashmere Jacket as part of its Autumn Winter 2015 collection. The cashmere is meticulously halved and folded over itself (hence the name, double) to create unlined, ultra-lightweight pieces that are both polished and practical. A contrasting black interior, showcased on the lapels, is perfectly complemented by the maxi-stripe angora scarf underneath. Canali too uses cashmere in its summer and winter collections, often blended with fine and natural fabrics.

Canali Double Jacket 2015 - cashmere coat

Corneliani, on the other hand, has introduced the Cashmere Élan Collection this winter exclusively for the Indian market. Including jackets, pullovers, scarves, sweaters and mufflers, the assortment has a soft, invitingly tactile feel. From single breast two button classic to court (bandhgala) and sleeveless jacket, these jackets are entirely unlined.

Most of the international cashmere products, however, are not made in usual pashmina craft areas such as Kashmir or Mongolia. While the wool maybe sourced from these regions, they are at times blended, and then usually weaved and finalized in the factories of these brands.

The craft of weaving and embroidering pashmina is becoming endangered, and so is the pashmina goat. Going forward, this art form is going to become even more rare, making it tough to find genuine cashmere products. Although cheaper alternatives can be found in the market, they cannot imitate the beauty, the elegance and the mysticism of a genuine pashmina. And so, before pashmina faces the same bans as shahtoosh (wool made from the hair of the Tibetan antelope), stock it up we say.

Soumya Jain, author, writer, influencer, luxurySoumya Jain is the Chief Editor & CEO of LuxuryFacts. She is also the Co-Editor of ‘The Luxury Market in India: Maharajas to Masses’, along with Glyn Atwal, published by Palgrave Macmillan and launched in September 2012. The book is a window into the highly complex Indian luxury market. Soumya is also a visiting lecturer for luxury marketing and online journalism at leading educational institutes in India. She has been invited to speak at conferences and address industry colleagues about the Indian luxury market. Recognising her knowledge of the market, she has been quoted in the media several times, while also contributing articles on luxury in various publications.

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