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The Playful Pashmina

By Executive Editor

Discover the pashm fling with the contemporary groove since modernity is about experiment. Give in to the divine richness and unparalleled lightness of a cashmere sensation and its woven delights.

There are multiple legends, chronicles and snippets woven around the tapestry of pashmina shawls. One of many such intriguing snippets tells us that the pashmina became a rage in France after emperor Napoleon presented a rare shawl to his beloved, empress Josephine. From royal divas to celluloid beauties like Grace Kelly – the beloved pash has been courted by a sterling bevy of senoritas, maharanis, begums and uber-chic personalities.Throughout ages in history, royalty has taken a deep interest in these woven wonders. From the valley of Kashmir, the name and fame of pashminas had spread across Europe, boosting its demand in the European market. Tracing the genesis of these shawls, we are taken to imagining the biting winds that whip through the glaciers and mountains. It is in this 14,000ft altitude, that the beautiful Himalayan mountain goat (capra hircus) roams. To survive this freezing climatic bite, this wonderful animal grows a unique, incredibly soft pashm, or inner coat, six times finer than human hair. Popularised in the west as cashmere, this is one of the world’s most rare and precious fibres; soft to handle, light and warm, and to wear it is to be perfectly insulated from the cold.
It is said that, the forbidden fruits are the sweetest to taste and to get a taste of paradise, one has to take many-a-ordeals. Likewise, every spring/summer, Himalayan farmers climb these mountains to comb the fine woolen undercoat from the neck and chest of the capra hircus goat. The fleece consists of the very fine, crimpy down and the usually longer, outside, coarse, straight guard hairs. Cashmere fibers must be separated, either by combing out the down or by using a commercial dehairer on sheared fibers. It is painstakingly sorted to remove any coarse hairs, sand and loose dirt reducing the yield. A yield of at least 30 percent down is desirable, but is not the average by any means. The longest, finest down is used in knitted garments and the shorter down in woven fabrics. Because it is only 14-19 microns in diameter (the fiber must be under 19 microns to be labeled cashmere), it cannot be spun by machines, so the downy wool is hand-woven into shawls. It takes the wool of three goats to produce one shawl.

The Wintry Wedding Goodie
Pashminas make for a stylish winter fashion accessory. Drape it over the shoulders, drape it halfway around the shoulders like a stole for a poised yet fashionable look. Let it hang from one shoulder, double it up around the neck and loop it for an Indo-western look play up your gown, saree by wearing the pashmina stole as a shrug – it can instantly bring in a rare touch of elegance and refined sensuality.
“Pashmina shawl is every girl’s friend. Especially in the wedding seasons, it is a must have for all brides, bridesmaid, relatives etc. It is one garment that looks cool on youngsters and classy on elders. Right from the need of winters to the flaunting fashion, pashmina is the best answer for all fashionistas,” says Sneha Mehta of Kukoon.
Kul Bhushan Ahuja, owner of Ahujasons says, “A wardrobe must-have, these shawls besides being great fashion pieces are also a symbol of appreciation and are widely used in Indian weddings as ideal gifts.”
Anuradha Kapoor, owner of the brand Aamushee says, “Pashmina shawls add a refined and personal touch to the winter bride. The soft warmth and the ethereal feel of pashmina drape men and women both in a sophisticated and rich look. Their simple elegance while adding to the richness of the Indian bride or groom, does not overshadow their primary ensemble, be it a fine lehenga, bandhgala, kurta or a kanjeevaram saree. The natural warmth of Pashmina shawls or stoles are ideally suited for evening/night weddings, although the fine mist or nude qualities are ideal for the day too. Accessorising a basic outfit with a pashmina shawl or stole into a stunning one is the easiest.”

Skill & Style
Conventionally, these shawls have been intricately patterned in exquisite Kashmiri hand embroidery and this ornamentation has become synonymous with pashminas. In its modern day avatar, pashmina fabrics are being adorned with a wide gamut of experimental embroideries. Ahujasons have combined another heritage craft of kalamkari to create a range of limited edition pashmina shawls this wedding season. Their latest ‘Gulabdar Collection’ redefines the fashion statement this wedding, festive and winter season. It is an ode to the traditional craft called Gulabdar.
Anuradha says, “Kani, plain weave, twill weave, herringbone, chashmebulbul (diamond) are some of the techniques used while the mediums of craft used are ombre dyeing, dyed embroidery, hand painting, kalamkari, woven effects and Swarvoski studded designs.”
Mubi Shaw, owner of Shaw Bros says, “The handmade ones add the finest heirloom touch to pashminas. Handweaving lends that exquisite detailed touch that remains unrivalled. We have these shawls varying between the range of ` 8, 000-to-1, 00, 000.”
Mohsin of Shah Arts Emporium says, “Woven techniques using wooden needles lend an authentic touch to pashminas and is also a painstaking form of the craft. It takes two years to make a pashmina shawl. The handloom shawl, spun and woven by hand using no machinery continue to top demand charts from customers.”
Speaking on the eternal value of cashmere, Simran Nanda, designer, Vintage Shades, says “We are committed to preserving and celebrating one of India’s greatest traditions, the timeless art of cashmere. We blend cashmere with silk, linen, modal, cotton, etc making for very interesting blends and styles! Vintage Shades prides itself on the continuation of old weaving and precision techniques from fiber to fabric. The result is a natural, timeless product that is luxury defined.”
The pashm/cashmere fabric provides unparalleled warmth and suppleness despite being extremely light.
Do- rukha, hafsokar, palledar, kani, kunjdaar in the traditional ones are the widespread varieties available at Aamushee apart from the more contempoary styles like plain, woven, dyed, printed, painted, checks and stripes. There are also the novel varieties available for the stylistas: Mist, nude, caress, paper pashmina, ring shawls at Aamushee, which strive to achieve the fineness of 17th century where it was said that a yard of fabric can be passed through a ring.





The Fashionable Bent
Modern day interpretations of pashminas have gotten a little more adventurous with its use of colour and motifs. Kul Bhushan Ahuja says, “Strong geometric patterns combined with the traditional motifs have been really popular this year and can be recommnded as a strong trend for the younger pashmina afficianados. Also a fresher, more vibrant palette of colours such as fuschia, turquoise, lime green, gold, aubergine have been much preferred.”
Anuradha goes for the soft hues of pastels, like ivory, natural grey, toosh colour and delicate patterns, which are the old classic styles that never go out of fashion. She advises the bride-to-be to not wear it as an accessory, rather as part of the ensemble. She says, “Let your personal style quotient show: this-is-not-your-grandma’s shawl.”

Speaking on the trends, Mubi Shaw says, “Apart from the popular stripes and checks and the simple bordered ones, current trends are also seeing revival of the kani and kalamkari art forms on pashminas. The colour palette has also seen an interesting comeback of the navy blue and the arrival of the darker shades of yellow.”
Sneha Mehta adds, “Tassels, gotta, Swarovski and heavy zardozi work adds the much-needed bling to vibrant colours, forming future trends.”






Crafting Care
Investing in a fine pashmina shawl can be a great trousseau buy for the prospective bride-to-be. Mohsin says, “Shawl connoisseurs consider original pashminas to be at par with gold and can be an excellently hospitable gifting option as well.”

Hollywood Style: To try out this chic style, you require two pashmina shawls of different colours. Intertwine and drape them around the neck.
Stole Style: Preferred for evenings, the stole style looks best when a beaded pashmina is brought into play. In this style, you just have to drape the pashmina as you do for stoles, loosely over the upper arms, allowing the ends to hang down from the underarm.
Head Scarf Style: In this style, you need to place the pashmina over your head, covering your hair with it. With the folded edge facing you, holding tight onto both ends, pull both under the chin. Cross the sides over one another and bring the ends around to the nape of the neck. Now, fold the ends in a neat knot, either at the side of the throat or in front.

Inputs taken from Sneha Mehta
founder, Kukoon
Also remember, it’s better to hand-wash your pash rather than dry-clean it. You can use warm water and a mild soap (or baby shampoo), pat it well and blot dry it without twisting it. Use a soft iron on a cover sheet placed on top of the pashmina. Or else, you can simply let it hang unbunched to get rid of the wrinkles.
The best way to make sure your pashmina remains lofty in its boost and tight in its weave, is to wear it less and give it breaks from time to time. The longevity of a pashmina shawl ranges from 100-150 years lending the term ‘eternal’ a truly literal dimension.
Considering this is a precious buy, you must also know how to take care of this gift of love. On this, Mubi Shaw signs off by saying, “Wrap it in a fine muslin cloth after winter is over and sprinkle a few napthalene balls on and around the wrapped pashmina and store it safely in your cupboard.”

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