• BIOGRAPHIES - The Queen of Cashmere

The Queen of Cashmere

The authoritative New York Times proclaimed Laura Biagiotti "The Queen of Cashmere" because in the late seventies she transformed the rather boring men’s cashmere sweater into a versatile, sexy, trendy item and used cashmere to make jumpsuits, dresses and more. Cashmere is one of the world’s finest fibers. The word "cashmere" originally referred to the wool from the Kel goat, which lives in the Kashmir region that is currently divided between India, Pakistan, and China. Today, the most precious cashmere comes from Mongolia and is collected at an altitude of 4000 meters, which makes it the fiber that is closest to heaven! The history of cashmere is lost in antiquity and runs along routes in which east and west met and collided. Already in Ancient Rome, the nobles supposedly loved to wear gorgeous Indian shawls woven with this wool. The key figure is Marco Polo who, in the late 13th century, wrote of the amazingly warm and beautiful stoles that he saw on his legendary travels. Oriental legends and reality meld when they speak of a sultan of Kashmir who loved beautiful things and invited a Turkish weaver to court so he could produce shawls worthy of a king, thus introducing cashmere to court for the very first time. This was behind the origin of the superb pashmina (from the Persian word Pashm, which means wool), a shawl worn by the Maharajah. With time, the pashmina was worn by other social classes and became the gift that a groom gave his bride after threading it through her wedding band. This test is still used today to recognize a real pashmina, also called the "ring shawl". Try removing your wedding band or a ring without stones and thread your scarf through it. If it doesn’t get stuck, then it’s a valuable product. Cashmere arrived in Europe by way of the Company of the Indies and with the Napoleonic Wars at the end of the 18th century. French soldiers literally robbed their enemies and brought cashmere shawls back to their wives as spoils of war. Thus, French women were the first to fall in love with cashmere, and later all the women of the European courts followed suit. But why is cashmere so alluring? It is a fiber of unparalleled lightness and it can protect against both heat and cold, which is why it is also a valuable fiber used in desert regions. Its allure satisfies all the senses, especially the sense of touch due to its softness, and its warmth is similar to that of human body. Who doesn’t have his own security blanket like Linus? Cashmere is gathered by hand when the animal sheds its winter coat in early spring. The cashmere goat literally scratches its beard against the rocks and the shepherds collect the hair. Of course, the goat is also brushed. The most valuable cashmere goats are the ones that live in the wild, and the colder the winter, the warmer and finer the fleece it produces. The soft part is the undercoat that is called "duvet" and combines lightness, elasticity, and resistance. It becomes stupendous only after it is spun and dyed. I’m pleased to point out that Italians are master weavers using both traditional looms and state-of-the-art machinery. When cashmere arrives here, it is ugly, untreated and coarse. How can we recognize quality cashmere? You first need to read the label. The international code for cashmere is WS. Then you have to feel and caress it: if the surface is sticky or scratchy, don’t buy it. Finally, try it on: you’ll love it! If you want cashmere to last, wash it with baby shampoo and dry it in a dark room, wrapped in a towel. NEVER wring it! If you follow these instructions, your cashmere garment will last forever!