Insight from our resident cashmere expert — Nicola Luccarini.
The fine quality cashmere offered by the e-boutique The Italian Collection comes from a very limited supply and its processing is labour intensive. In our quest for knowledge about why the wool is so elite and difficult to manufacture, we gathered details from our resident cashmere expert — Nicola Luccarini, the founder, artisan-designer and divine inspiration behind the cashmere-rich label that bears his name.
The journey of this glorious yarn begins in the highlands of Kashmir, an area sandwiched between India, Pakistan and China where indigenous goats roam year round. Up on high, the plummeting temperatures, harsh winds and downright brutal conditions do not bother these hardy goats. This is because they have two coats; a very soft, thick undercoat and a tough, coarse outer one. It is the undercoat, also known as duvet, that is the source of sought after cashmere fibre. This soft undercoat ranges in colour from pristine white (most valuable) to black.
It was during the 1700s that the fibre’s unique thermal qualities came to the attention of the East India Trading Company. With the help of artisans who spun the yarn into gorgeous shawls and scarves, the company took a gamble launching these new accessories in France and then throughout Western Europe. Soon buyers outstripped supply, not only because of the small number of goats in a small region, but also because the wool can only be harvested once a year and through a time-consuming process.
With the advent of spring, when the goats begin to shed, the shepherds carefully comb each animal to harvest the duvet undercoat. Then these skilled workers sort by hand the good fibre from the bad, the black from the white, and once the sorting is complete, they hand spin the single fibres into thread. Before weaving can begin, however, shepherds manually clean the thread, treating it with paraffin, a process designed to make weaving easier.
After the looms have done their magic, highly trained weavers place the raw materials on luminescent tables where they check them for flaws or other anomalies. If deemed flawless, a technique known as “re-knit” occurs ultimately giving us the final knit. And to rid the new knit of any traces of paraffin or the natural oiliness of the goat skin known as lanolin, a final cleaning ensues.
Strange as it may seem, there appears to be a difference of opinion between the two leading producers of cashmere, the Italians and the Scots, on how cashmere should feel to the touch. While the Italians, and of course we include ourselves in this camp, prefer that cashmere be soft, letting the handler know immediately that it is cashmere, the Scots prefer the fibre be dry and hard. They believe that with time and cleaning, the cashmere softens by itself, thus extending the life of the garment.
Our own Nicola Luccarini says the softer version of cashmere can be preserved easily enough with proper care. His first tip, “Do not wear cashmere two days in a row. Let it rest a while as cashmere is a natural, living fiber!”
Perhaps knowing the harvesting and preparations behind the fibre now justify its seemingly daft cost! When it comes to the cashmere pieces offered by the Italian Collection and our designer, Nicola, consider not only the fibre, but the timeless design. The piece you buy today, will be loved in two, five and 10 years’ time. Admirers will have to ask where and when you found such a unique, high-quality wearable.
Is cashmere by Nicola Luccarini at theitaliancollection.com worth the investment? We believe it is…
Co-founders Myriam and Cristina