Cashmere - The Ultimate Luxury Fabric

A cashmere scarf has long been a desirable luxury fashion item coveted by women and men alike. Nowadays however it seems possible to buy cashmere scarves for absurdly cheap prices at all sorts of discount stores. Does this mean that cashmere is no longer a luxury?

Let's look at the story behind cashmere and how it is made, and discover that true top quality cashmere is still a sought after and desirable luxury, despite the many cheap and inferior products that claim to be the real thing.

Cashmere - The Ultimate Luxury Fabric

Quality cashmere is extremely lightweight, delicate and soft, yet very strong and very warm. Traditionally the best cashmere scarves could be pulled through a wedding band with ease, so fine was the fabric. There are various grades of cashmere and many cheaper products use the coarser grade of cashmere or even blend it with wool, so that it no longer resembles the beautifully soft and light luxury fabric of the genuine article.

Cashmere is made from the fine fibres that make up the under coat of the Hircus goat which lives in the inner land mass of China, Tibet, Mongolia Afghanistan and Northern Persia. These goats have adapted to survive freezing conditions and the fine fibres of their undercoat grow thickly throughout the winter keeping them warm and snug. In spring the undercoat naturally moults to be combed out over one or two weeks by the herdsmen who harvest the fibres. A long series of tasks were then traditionally carried out by hand: first the separating of the soft and fine fibres from the coarser outer hairs; then the dying, carding, spinning, oiling and weaving by Kashmiri craftsmen into the luxurious light fabrics treasured by Indian emperors and princes.

When the first cashmere fabrics reached the French court in the late 18th century they caused a sensation and it wasn't long until the French acquired breeding stock of these goats for their own production. Nowadays cashmere is produced in many parts of the world, even in warmer climates where the undercoat grown is not as fine and dense. Parts of the process have become mechanised, making it less costly and labour intensive and allowing cashmere to be accessible to a wider circle of connoisseurs other than just royalty. However it is still the freezing mountainous interior of Asia that provides the perfect conditions for producing the finest quality cashmere. Because there is a limited supply, as each goat only yields a small amount of these precious fibres each year and harvesting them is a laborious and time-consuming task, this top quality cashmere is still a sought after luxury product.

Cashmere is graded according to the diameter of the fibres. The best grade has fibres that are between 14 and 15.5 microns in diameter or sometimes even less. This compares with the finest Merino sheep's wool which is 23 microns thick and human hair which can be 200 microns. Grade B cashmere can be up to 19 microns in diameter. The lowest grade of cashmere can have fibers of up to 30 microns in thickness, but this quality isn't accepted as true cashmere in all countries and is far less soft than the top grades. The goats from Inner Mongolia tend to have the finest fibers and so produce the softest, finest, most valuable cashmere, which can be woven into the most delectably light and warm scarves and fabrics.

Unfortunately cashmere scarves and other products are very rarely labelled with the provenance or even the grade of the cashmere used in the making. Discerning buyers have to rely on their senses to assess the softness, lightness and sensual feel of the fabric. Or buy only from designers and makers who are transparent and open about the provenance of their materials. Top quality cashmere won't be cheap, but it will reward its purchaser by many years of beauty, warmth and style.

Shop-Label is an innovative online designer label store based in South Africa, providing up-to the minute designer fashion to online shoppers all over the world. Check out their new range of top quality cashmere scarves by designer Artemis Wragge for the indulgent luxury of genuine cashmere.

by Kit Heathcock; Monday, April 2, 2012 @ 07:32 PM [3086]

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