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Pashmina: Delicate Softness of the Himalayan

Thursday, 11 November 2010

PashminaPashmina has been valued for centuries throughout Asia and the Middle East Asia, and the wonderful qualities of pashmina are making it just as popular in the West. «Pashmina» is derived from the Persian word «pashm» meaning finest wool, the «soft gold». The elegance of pashmina is incomparable to the other fibers. Combine the beauty of pashmina and the warmth it provides, and there can be no better choice for outwear. It is strong yet flexible, light in weight, warm and luxurious wrap or wear for evening and daytime wear in every season.

Production Technology

Pashmina comes from high Himalayan region of Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia and Kashmir also Cashmere which is derived at the altitude of 12000 to 14000 feet where temperature drops below 40 degree centigrade. Every summer, Himalayan farmers climb the mountains to comb the fine woolen undercoat from the neck and chest of Chyangra (Capra Hircus), a Himalayan mountain goat. This wool has been found to be the best natural insulation in the whole world, as it helps the animal to survive at below 40 degree C.

Pashmina fiber is 15 - 19 microns in diameter making it very soft whereas human hair is 75 microns in diameter. Because it is only 15 to 19 microns in diameter, it cannot be spun by machines, so the downy wool is hand woven into shawls, stoles, mufflers or other pashmina products for export, predominantly to America, Europe, Japan and Korea. One goat produces 3 to 8 ounces of Pashmina per year, and it takes the wool from four and over 200 men hours (spinning, weaving, dying and decorating) to make just one pashmina shawl. Hand spinning the wool for a single pashmina takes 15 days, so naturally the labor-intensive production is reflected in the price.

In today's commercial market, pashmina is usually available with wool and silk. Pure pashmina is too light and delicate. To make it stronger and more durable, silk is added to pashmina; sometimes the amount of silk in pashmina is as high as 30%. Pashmina shawls, stoles and scarves are widely available in single-ply and two-ply with different content of silk in different colors and thickness. The luxurious pashmina products are hand woven by traditional weavers whose families have been in the business from generations and they inherit this art from their ancestors.

A Word of History

Discovered by the fashion world only in the past years, pashmina has been a status symbol in the East for hundreds of years.  In India and Nepal, a pashmina blanket was an essential component of a wealthy woman's dowry.  Shawls and blankets woven from pashmina wool have been adored for centuries in the Far East. Pashmina craze began in the XVI century with the founder of Mughal dynasty, Muhammad Babur Zahireddin. Under this great patron of arts and letters, all creative media flourished, and they continued to do so under his successor Akbar, down through the seventeenth century. Like other things rarefied and Eastern, pashmina been translated eagerly into Western decadence.

It is interesting to note that Napoleon may have started the pashmina fashion in Europe over 200 years ago when he presented a pashmina shawl to his wife, Empress Josephine. She was so pleased with the shawl that she asked Napoleon to get more so she could share them with her fashionable society friends. Two hundred years later pashmina remains an essential part of a fashionable wardrobe and popular wedding and bridesmaid gifts, attesting to the durability and widespread appeal of this classic accessory.

In the XIX century Europe, thin pashmina shawl was a luxury item owing to the Empress Eugenie, who is said to entertain herself by threading ethereal pashmina shawl through her rings. The European market for shawls collapsed in 1870 due to a combination of factors such as changing tastes and competition from Paisley shawls. The economic prostration of France when she was defeated by Russia added to the declining European market. The Kashmir weavers either left the valley for Punjab or started producing embroidered shawls for tourists, mainly British officers on furlough in colonized India.

Pashmina sales in the West suddenly took off in 1998 when designers in London, Paris and New York started to include them in their fashion collections. Since then the demand for pashmina is growing day by day and it has helped to push the price of pashmina down to an affordable level.

Pashmina Trends

Pashmina is the current buzzword of the fashion industry and this season's must have for the status seekers. The pashmina wrap is now regarded as an essential component of the modern woman's wardrobe. A simple shawl costs $500.00 and can be found popping up everywhere, from Nieman Marcus to ebay.com, in fashion magazines and on celebrities.  Trendsetters around the world prefer the natural quality fabrics, and pashmina obviously tops the list. With the three divas known for their impeccable style - Milla Jovovich, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Biel - leading the way, pashmina quickly became a must-have for many Hollywood celebrities.

Natural colors of pashmina shawls and scarves are gray, brown or white. However, owing to modern technology, pashmina can be dyed to various colors, patterns and prints. The colors of pashmina that are particularly fashionable this season are shades of purple; from pale lilac to a deep violet shade of prune. Pashmina trends this year are slightly ethnic embroidery and pleats. Due to the timeless and seasonless versatility of the pashmina, many women opt for a classic color that can be worn season after season, perennial favorites include pink - shades through to bright fuchsia - butter, yellow, white and jet black.

The pashmina shawl trend has sparked an interest in shawls of all descriptions. The pashmina shawls are versatile, all-season pieces that may be worn over a bare or sleeveless dress on a cool summer night, with a suit in the fall, and with a coat in winter. The shawl can be wrapped around the upper body and worn as you would a jacket. The can be worn as a muffler around the neck or wrapped at the waist.

Pashmina Trivia

Pashmina is the finest wool shorn from the soft undercoat (neck and belly) of Himalayan mountain goats. Touted to be lighter, softer and finer than cashmere, pashmina has a texture so fine «it is the fiber equivalent of meringue». Designer Gabriele Sanders, known for her embroidered pashmina shawls says, «pashmina makes regular cashmere feel like cardboard». Cashmere fibers are thicker, up to 20 microns. The feather light pashmina fiber is extraordinarily soft and light, yet exceptionally warm.

Pashmina is often blended with silk, which sound more luxurious, but is not as good.  It does make it lighter, but also makes it cheaper.

A pashmina shawl can range in cost from as little as about $35US for a pure pashmina scarf or up to thousands of $US for a super high-quality pure pashmina shawl.

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