Friday, May 27, 2011

'All about cashmere' - Interviews with Chantal Roy, part one

During the restauration of my Ex-Libris cashmere shawl by Chantal Roy's invisible mending atelier CHANTAL RAMMENDO INVISIBILE, it was not only fascinating to learn about the amazing results and techniques of invisible mending, but I was fortunate enough to also gain a deeper understanding about cashmere in general, as Chantal Roy has been most gracious and kind in answering the many questions I had on the topic. Her knowledge and experience of these subjects is exceptional, and I am most happy and grateful that she agreed to share her advice and expertise on this blog, in form of a series of interviews.

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? 
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 Via Cernaia 6 - 20121 - Milano - ITALY Phone: +39 02 29001310 Mobile: +39 348 5851 365 E-mail: Web: 
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  1. This is very informative, thank you for putting this together. Shall look forward to part II care instructions ...

  2. Thank You!

    I appreciate the detailed information, I think I finally have an understanding of cashmere!

    Happy Holidays!


  3. No questions for now, just a huge "soft" THANK YOU to Chantal and of course our lovely hostess MaiTai. As a big fan of cashmere this article has definitely answered a lot of questions and also affirmed some of my own theories on this delicate subject. xox, Macs

  4. Dearest MaiTai,

    Many thanks for arranging this interview, i found it very interesting and look forward to part 2, it gives me a greater knowledge about cashmere as i love to know anything i can about all Hermes items.

    Best Ladyjane963

  5. Very informative MaiTai. Thank you for sharing the interview. Now I will treasure my cashmere items more-- especially my older GMs-- because I have a greater understanding of what it took to create them.

    Wishing you a wonderful December weekend. xxS

  6. I thought I knew quite a bit about cashmere until I read this : what an immensely informative and fascinating post. Many thanks to Chantal for sharing her knowledge and and to MaiTai for bringing it about .
    I wish we could have a grading system ,stating length of fibres .
    I'm going to start weighing things to compare now , that'll be revealing I'm sure !

  7. This was very informative! Thank you Chantal and dear MT for putting this together. I'm looking forward to part two.

  8. Thank you so much, my dear MaiTai, for this great post about cashmere and your interview with Chantal. It is truly fascinating!
    Enjoy a lovely weekend, warm hugs, M.

  9. My questions answered! Thank you Chantal Roy and MaiTai!

  10. Valuable information. Thanks MaiTai for the interview and Chantal as well.


  11. Wonderful, just wonderful. This blog is evolving from not only a brilliant 'style bible' and 'go to place' for chic and fabulous touches, but to an online 'magazine' full of lifestyle, information, shopping and above all your unique and inimitable warmth. Reading and enjoying this last article was just fantastic, I too am looking forward to part deux! Chantal is so very generous with her time and wisdom, and you are so clever and kind to have her and her talents feature here, thank you both!

    DB xxx

  12. My dearest MaiTai,

    Truly phenomenal! Thank you so very much, dear MaiTai and Chantal, for giving us this invaluable knowledge and education - an extraordinary in depth, encyclopedic study of cashmere. So grateful to you both. Cashmere will never be the same again for many! Sending you all good wishes for a lovely weekend, with warmest hugs and much love xxx

  13. Thank you for an truly informative interview and I can't wait for Part 2! I think the comment about color vis a vis wear on the fiber is very interesting. The demand for more color appears to increase every year so this is more challenging for the weavers. My oldest Hermes shawl dates from the 90's and has held up extremely well. No pilling at all.

  14. Dear MaiTai,
    Thanks so much for sharing this most interesting information! Being sensitive to regular wool, I appreciate learning all about my beloved cashmere. It's my necessary luxury, all winter long! I look forward to part two. Wishing you happiest holidays, filled with cashmere!

  15. Thanks for the provided info. I would ask a question about storing the cashmere cardigans in winter season (when they should be ready to use): if I put them on the shelf, I should iron them prior to use (as they get creased). If on the hanger, I always have a feeling they might stretch. Is there any smart way to store them so they are ready-to-use and keep their form at the same time? TIA, hugs, Lilian

  16. Wonderful article and so looking forward to part two.

  17. Thank you for sharing the tips. this is very helpful and informative.

  18. Dear Bienchen, Debbie, hair-mess, Ladyjane963, SMR, Estrella, booksnchocolate, Pam, Manuela, weave and spin, CS, DB, Scarf Enthusiast, gracekelly, NiniKnows, Lilian, Frances and Chocolate, Cookies & Candies, many thanks for the kind and lovely comments. The interview with Chantal Roy has been most insightful to me, and I am happy you enjoyed it too. Lilian, thank you for the great question, it will be addressed in one of the follow ups :)

  19. Mai Tai...this is such a great section in your blog and I keep going back to it all the time...I just bought a tyger tyger GM and so help me God it does not feel like feels like wool? Is that because of the very deep coloration of the design? Will it get softer with wear and washing? Should I wash it first before wearing it? I do prefer the softer and thicker scarves that Hermes used to produce ten or fifteen years ago..thanks for any advice! You are fabulous Mai Tai! Marina