CHANEL pink cashmere

Anything made with cashmere sounds really good straight away.

Once you try the queen of yarns, there is no going back, the world is a different place.

The luxury of cashmere
Cashmere is more expensive than any other fibre. Up until the 1980’s it was still considered a rare, luxury item. Reserved for ‘best’ and found only from specialist suppliers and a few of the higher priced brands. It did not have a ‘cool’ image, as it was so expensive people expected it to last and represent good value. Designs were classic, verging on the frumpy side.

When treated appropriately,  far from being a delicate yarn, it was tough and long lasting. It wasn’t unusual for the British to wear inherited ‘grandpas’ cashmere pieces, reinforced with leather elbow patches!

Until about 1978, most cashmere came in ‘natural,’ goat like colours. It was a stylish Italian, Brunello Cuccineli, who had the innovative idea to bring about the development of coloured cashmere which shaped the world as we know it.

Raw cashmere
Traditionally raw cashmere comes only from the underside, of a rare breed of goat raised in Mongolia (and some parts of China.) Goats, naturally, shed part of their fleece during the warmer months, but harvesting beforehand, would ensure valuable material, doesn’t go to waste.

The animal was not harmed during this process, which involves painstakingly combing the goats hair. Slow & laborious. All that work would produce only about 200-250 grams raw, impure cashmere per goat. About 60% of the ‘harvest’ would then be discarded, as substandard. This no longer happens and substandard cashmere finds its way into the lower priced brands.

Real cost of cashmere
More alarmingly, in recent years, an increased demand for ‘low cost’ cashmere has put animal welfare on the back burner. It also brought a number of other more serious, environmental problems: the mountains which are the goats natural habitat, have to support an ever increasing population of animals, decimating the sparse resources and throwing the Eco system out of sync.

100% cashmere
Cashmere is collected in its three base colors – brown, grey and white. Subsequently these are manually sorted, to remove impurities. Another slow & laborious process. The harvest is then ‘graded’ and sold on.

The longer fibres are more desirable, as the will not pill easily and the finished item, be it knitwear or cloth, will hold its shape. There is only a limited supply of the desirable high grade cashmere and will usually get snapped up by the specialist companies who employ experienced cashmere buyers.

Experienced companies, like Brora, are based in Scotland and have their own mill to process ‘raw’ cashmere. The processing at the mill, as well as the initial grade, will determine the quality as well as the price of the final item.

Cashmere being a natural and relatively rare product, does not translate well for huge production runs, as it’s hard to keep the consistency. Each item will vary.

Lower grade cashmere is often mixed with silk, wool or camel hair to produce less expensive items. These may, or may not, be of good quality, but they are not the same as pure cashmere and the base cost is substantially lower.

Cashmere in the wardrobe
So two jumpers may both say 100% cashmere on the label, but vary significantly in price and quality. One will pill and loose it’s shape, the other will go on, season after season. Some of the best quality ones, (like Brunello Cuccinelli, Hermes, CHANEL and Brora) may be hand finished, so the seams lay flat, the buttons are specially commissioned to match the colour, that sort of small detail, which is not immediately apparent is a mark of good quality.

How to recognise quality cashmere
Softness is not necessarily, an indication of higher quality. In fact good cashmere used to feel quite substantial and a little rough, it was the using, washing and wearing -that created the divine softness, everyone raves about nowadays.

To cut a long story short, good cashmere improves in feel with wear and is a tough long lasting fabric.

Generally, cashmere items produced in small batches will be better quality, than anything that has been ordered en masse.

Price is a vague indication of quality.

Although you can find high priced, poor quality cashmere, the way it’s produced and the rarity of the yarn, means there is no such thing, as cheap and good quality. Brora still controls its own cashmere mills, and I have found their cashmere comparable to much higher priced brands.

A quick way to tell, is to look at the seams and the finishing of a good brand and compare with the less expensive one. Rubbing between fingers should not shed fluff or leave excessive wrinkling. If you gently stretch, it should bounce back into shape. Do not attempt this method in a shop! Much better to know & trust your brand.

Cashmere Care
Good cashmere knitwear can be washed with success and does not need to be dry cleaned. Dry cleaning fluids are toxic and will significantly shorten your cashmeres life span.

Any initial piling should be gently lifted with masking tape. Store with care using sealed bags and acid free tissue, to avoid moth infestations – moths view your quality cashmere as a michelin star feast! Tailored items cannot be washed and required different type of care. (Post coming soon)

Shopping for cashmere
Something to be done slowly and with consideration for the goat and our wallet. When buying cashmere, check out the origins of the yarn and the manufacturer’s credentials. A manufacturer owning their own mill, controls the entire process and is able to offer consistency. ‘Made in Scotland’, is still an excellent bet.

The informed buyer, Buys with longevity in mind – it is far better to buy good quality British wool, rather than cheap cashmere which was produced God knows how, and will be all bobbly after a couple of wears. Poor quality cashmere will bring disappointment and an empty wallet. If you are hoping to build a long term classic wardrobe, skip the bargain cashmere for the simple reason that one will have nothing to wear (literally!) by the end of the season. Some won’t last long enough for the credit card bill to arrive.

Buy well and buy wisely, treating those cashmere jumpers, with respect befitting the queen of yarns.

© Lady Sarah in London
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12 thoughts on “CASHMERE STORIES (from quality in our wardrobe series#1)

  1. Virginia

    This post is so timely today! I was just looking online at a sale and sure enough there is cashmere on sale in my size and many colors for only $65.00 usd. But, I remember last years posts and discussions about cashmere (Thank you, Lady Sarah). So no cheap jumpers for me. And thank you for your great details in this post on care. I’ll wait till Eileen Fisher cashmere has a color I like. Unfortunately, Brora does not come in my size.

    Reply
      1. Virginia

        Most items are between $250 – $450 usd, so not expensive, but I am undecided about color! Can’t find Navy right now.

  2. Jo

    So sad BERK store has closed down. Their Ballantyne offerings and product withstand the test of time. So now I will shift my interest to Brora!

    Reply
  3. Sharleen

    I have never commented before, but I love your blog, the washing instructions are so useful. I was wondering if you have ever heard from the Eric Bompard brand? I recently bought a double-knitted cashmere cardigan from them and it’s wonderful, but I had no idea the brand existed. Have you ever bought from them?

    Reply
  4. silkpathdiary

    Excellent information, thank you! I am still amazed how long my ‘good’ cashmere have lasted with minimal piling and as you say feels better with age. I couldn’t have appreciated that when I first bought them. In recent years I have stuck to old British brands or H except for 2 cardis and will definitely invest in items from Brora once I have decided which. It is so very hard for me to find my size at Chanel sadly.

    Reply
  5. pgshore

    Everything you say about cashmere is so spot on, Lady Sarah! I generally only buy cashmere from England, Scotland, France, or Italy. Last year there were some “cashmere” v-neck sweaters on sale for $75 USD at my local department store, and I made the mistake of purchasing two of them just for “hanging about” in. (Because I really do hate to wear my good cashmere sweaters when I’m slopping around the house on a Sunday afternoon.) Well, THAT was money wasted! I would have been better off buying one nice charcoal grey merino wool sweater for the same $150, for Sunday afternoons. At least it wouln’t be pilling, and the seams would be straight!
    (Oh, and as a knitter, I totally support your statement about hand-washing cashmere sweaters. I’ve done it for years with no problem.)

    Reply
    1. lady sarah in london Post author

      Thank you for adding this info. Shops are very clever at displaying tempting rainbow colours of ‘inexpensive’ cashmere in attractive rows, – hard to resist. Anything I bought like that never lasted the season and was a waste of money, which made me research the subject. so now I close my eyes at pretty displays… 🙂

      Reply
  6. Katherine

    Hi Sarah, what a great article! Fun to see another cashmere lover, and I need to look for Brora next time I am in the UK or perhaps I’ll try to order online. Happy holidays!

    Reply
    1. lady sarah in london Post author

      Yes check Brora out when you are in London. (It may not be worth ordering from the U.S. as the import fees will add to the expense) the quality is superior to anything else I ve seen. Wash & wear!

      Reply

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