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Why cashmere is one of the world’s most desirable fibres

With thousands of years of history, cashmere has qualities that are well known. The fine and cosy fibre is derived from the undercoat of cashmere goats, found in regions such as China, Inner Mongolia, India and Australia. Going by where top luxury apparel companies such as Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana source their cashmere, the Capra hircus goats of Inner Mongolia produce the best-quality fibres – which help to keep them warm in winter, when temperatures can fall below minus 40 deg C.

While pure cashmere is often used for knit sweaters and scarves, it is also mixed with other fibres, such as silk and wool, to create blends that hold their shape better than cashmere alone, and is thus ideal for suits. And while your favourite cashmere overcoat can withstand some rain, an increasing number of menswear companies are coating the material with high-tech membranes for greater water resistance, so you’re not just limited to crinkly nylon windbreakers and rubbery raincoats when it’s storming.

In recent years, cashmere has lost some of its cachet due to the rise of other quality fuzzy fibres such as vicuna and alpaca, proliferation of mass-market cashmere, and environmental concerns resulting from overgrazing. Nonetheless, cashmere remains shorthand for cosy luxury – giving a luxe vibe to everything from sweaters to sweatpants, socks and even skivvies (recall designer Maurizio Amadei’s cashmere-blend boxer briefs that cost US$250, or S$339). Here’s what else you need to know about this fine fleece.

BY THE NUMBERS

Facts and figures about one of our favourite fibres.

US$4.3b (S$5.8b) The value of the cashmere garment industry
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19 MICRONS The maximum diameter of cashmere fibre

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75 MICRONS The average diameter of human hair

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> 100 M The number of cashmere goats in China

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90 The percentage of land area in Mongolia that is fragile dryland, which is at risk of desertification

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THE WOOL STORY

A step-by-step look at how high-end fabric and clothing specialist Loro Piana processes baby cashmere.

  • 01: BABY SOFT

    Cashmere from China and Mongolia arrives at Loro Piana’s Roccapietra mill in Italy. The mill is the largest cashmere-processing site in the west.

HAIR DOS

How to give your cashmere closet an upgrade.

  • 01: UP YOUR ATHLEISURE GAME

    If you had to guess which item in Ermenegildo Zegna Couture’s Fall 2017 collection contained cashmere, which would you pick? If you went with the overcoat – which seems the likeliest choice – you’d be wrong (it’s made of wool). Instead, artistic director Alessandro Sartori has put a street-meets-sophisticated spin on sports luxe, evident in relaxed yet refined pieces such as a pair of cashmere-cotton sweatpants, a cashmere-silk pique polo shirt and a cashmere beanie.

5 QUESTIONS WITH SAM KERSHAW

The buying manager for menswear e-tailer Mr Porter shares his top tips on choosing and caring for cashmere.

HOW CAN YOU TELL IF CASHMERE IS OF GOOD QUALITY?

Really good cashmere should be very thin, with longer fibres and very light. When you touch fine cashmere, it should feel soft and silky-smooth. Lower-quality cashmere tends to be thicker and harder, and leave little stinging sensations on your fingertips.

WHY DO YOU THINK CASHMERE HAS REMAINED SO POPULAR?

Being one of the most luxurious natural fibres, cashmere is refined and delicate. It is durable and doesn’t harden over time, and stays dry and absorbs moisture nicely.

HOW DOES ONE KEEP CASHMERE LOOKING AND FEELING GOOD?

It’s good to clean cashmere before putting it away for the next winter. Dry-clean or only hand-wash it gently in a clean sink with body-temperature water. Always be gentle when hanging it, and try to lay it flat to air-dry.

THERE’S BEEN A RISE IN RELATIVELY LOW-PRICED CASHMERE PIECES. HOW GREAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THESE AND PRICIER ONES?

Cashmere is difficult to harvest and the quality ranges widely. Brands may choose different-quality cashmere for different usages and price-point offers.

WHAT CASHMERE ITEMS SELL BEST ON MR PORTER?

Other than sweaters, cashmere coats and jackets are very common. We also carry quite a few cashmere socks from brands such as Brunello Cucinelli and Saint Laurent; they are priced between HK$1,892 (S$328) and HK$2,323 per pair, and are very sought after.

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