Lucia van der Post
From the Print Edition:
Groucho Marx, Spring 93
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Donna Karan has shown it is possible to be just as laid back when it comes to handling cashmere and, winter 1992-93, produced a black cashmere dressing gown so packed with knockout simple chic that it would be a sin to leave it in the bedroom. And just as she was the first to give women the delicious luxury of cashmere sweatpants, so, last fall she gave her male customers a chance to swank, though tastefully of course, around in the gym.
Karan sees cashmere as the ultimate pampering fiber. "Cashmere sweaters," she says, "are sleek and streamlined and look as great outside as they do worn in front of the television. The cashmere sweatpant is the new jean--it looks great under a twill jacket or under a cashmere anorak...cashmere...in gray, white, black or red is the perfect gift for the man who has everything."
At Hermés last winter they experimented with what they call washed cashmere," a kind of relaxed, straight-from-the washing-machine matted look, combining it with suede to produce suede-fronted jackets. At £1,200 (about $1,836) per coat they were never going to be a mass seller, but they sold in record time.
But besides the knitwear, which has become ever more inventive, cashmere is used increasingly in the finest tweeds. To the Scottish mills come designers from all over the world to pore over threads and colors, patterns and tweeds.
Ermenegildo Zegnal for instance, one of Italy's finest menswear houses, always has a cashmere collection. It seems slightly awed by the wool, describing it as "more than just a noble fiber, it is a philosophy." This inspires Zegna every year to produce a "collection within the collection," all cashmere-based. For last fall there were jackets in double-worsted cashmere, combining warmth, lightness and a sturdier wear; in addition the jackets were completely reversible. There were blue pin-stripe cashmere suits as well as wool-cashmere blends for those who wanted something a little sturdier and a little less expensive. On a more relaxed note, there are dustercoats in pure cashmere, lined with silk, which are incredibly light and fully reversible. The designer house hasn't abandoned cashmere this spring or summer either. This year, cashmere is being used in light weaves in pale pastels for definitely spring-weight jackets.
Whereas once cashmere was the fiber for the coldest of climates, these days with air-conditioning and lighter plies and weaves, cashmere is a fabric for all seasons and all wardrobes. Whether it is used with casual throwaway chic to line a coat or make a simple T-shirt or whether it is used for those intricate intarsia patterns so beloved by the Japanese, it can be worn anywhere, anytime--by anyone who loves the best.
Lucia van der Post is a feature writer for The Financial Times of London.
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