This first part is comprehensive, but I feel it was very important to have a deeper knowledge on the subject of fibers and quality, as it will help to understand the topics which will follow (pilling, maintenance, storing etc). If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment box below.
What is cashmere, and how is it different from wool?
CR: Cashmere is a fine undercoat that usually comes from the underbelly part of goats. Cashmere fibers are hollow (like a tube), and much thinner than woolen fibres (they can go from a thickness of 11 to 18 micron, while the finest merino wool won't be thinner than 24 micron), which makes cashmere warmer and softer than wool, while at the same time lighter to wear.
Which fibers produce the more resistant cashmere yarn and fabric?
CR: Cashmere fibers usually goes from 1 to 3 inches. The longer the fibers are, the more resistant the yarn that is created when spinning.
Which fibers produce the softest and lightest cashmere yarn and fabric?
CR: In general terms, the thinner the fibre, the softer the yarn. Unfortunately, thinner fibers tend to be shorter and more fragile, and have a tendancy to break more easily.
What determines the quality of cashmere?
CR: The quality of cashmere fibers is determined by how thin and long they are. The most sought after fibres are long (resulting in a resistant yarn/fabric) and thin/fine (creating softness/ lightness). This doesn't include some very important exceptions such as baby cashmere which has shorter fibers and is the top of the quality, it also doesn't include fibers which may come from the underpart of the neck/throad of the goat that are used for some impalpable pieces of amazing quality.
What is pilling?
CR: Pilling is nothing more than shorter/broken cashmere fibers coming to the surface of a cashmere fabric, it is partly natural (cashmere always did a little bit of pilling with time ) but it can also be seen as a side effect of producing soft and light cashmere fabrics.
How is consumer demand influencing the production of cashmere fabric?
CR: Cashmere wasn't that soft in the past. It only became softer when it was well used. People like soft cashmere better, and they also want it to be light. To meet the demand, some companies started to make yarns that were more airy and less twisted. The customers liked it much better, and some brands were happy to meet the customer's expectations with this new way of spinning, as it meant that their cashmere items would weigh less, and therefore saving time and money in production.
Those who kept making cashmere the old way (by using longer and thicker fibres), were often accused at the time of producing lower quality cashmere because it was less soft, and more bulky. This was not true, as those cashmere fabrics were more resistant, and would not pill or snag easily.
What else has changed over time in the production of cashmere fabric?
CR: Cashmere is less greasy than wool, and therefore less elastic. In the past, it was therefor often woven in oil, which gave it a buttery feel, but since this method is very expensive, some producers eventually started to weave without oil (or with less oil, or with other methods). As a result, some customers missed the feeling of 'softness', but in reality, they missed the texture produced by the oil. Some producers started to compensate, and relaced the softness of the 'oily hand' by weaving a less twisted and more airy thread instead.
What is your personal view on softness?
CR: Knowing cashmere, I don't care much about it's softness if the thread feels empty..
How do CSGMs produced nowadays compare to CSGMs produced in the past?
CR: The CSGMs often feel like they have become thinner, but I remember customers complaining about the fact that the shawls were previously too bulky, and often too hot. So, just as some other brands developed their cashmere, maybe the shawls were made less heavy for various reasons. I still think the quality of the GMs is great, but because of all that has been said above, they sometimes feel a more fragile item than they were some time ago. In my experience it is the same with many brands that do cashmere, because consumers want softness above anything else. Personally, I would probably prefer the shawls thicker, but I am not so sure that all customers would feel the way I do.
Are there other factors which influence the softness/fragility of cashmere fabric?
CR: Yes, dying can influence the result a lot. The stronger/darker a color, the less soft the result. The lighter, more natural (closer to natural or natural white), the softer the shawl will be. This is the same with clothing. This is why you will probably never find a black baby cashmere sweater. I think the black dye could probably destroy a good part of the fibers. Stronger or different dyes could also be a good part of the reason why fibers break and pill, but this is just a hypothesis. This is also why there can be a great difference from year to year, from design to design, and from color way to color way.
How does the quality of cashmere compare to the past in terms of fibre?
CR: The quality of ALL cashmere has generally lowered over the years due to increase in demand. The best cashmere is found in China, not Kashmir. There is no reason for this apart from the way the goats are fed I suppose. Until the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, China had huge stocks of unsold cashmere. (For the purpose of price control, they would decide how much was to be sold every year, and keep the finest quality for themselves). Now China can't meet demand. In the mountains some areas are overgrazed by numerous goats, and the grass doesn't grow anymore. The problem now is how to feed a goat properly, since goats that aren't well fed won’t give high quality fibers. This doesn't mean that great cashmere doesn't exist anymore, but it does mean that it is much more expensive and much scarcer than in the past.
Which brands produce good quality cashmere in your opinion?
CR: As of now, some brands like Hermès, Loro Piana, Chanel, Brunello Cuccinelli, and also Fedeli are currently making excellent quality cashmere, but these are just examples and there are several others. That’s generally speaking of course.
Thank you so much for this interview, dear Chantal.
CHANTAL RAMMENDO INVISIBILE
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