Vibrant Fibres – All You Need To Know About Cashmere

Cashmere is up there with a little black dress and a navy suit in its fashion-proof essential wardrobe status. But how can you spot quality cashmere amongst the pretenders. Mark Southern discovered how to stop pulling the wool over your own eyes.

As originally published by The Kensington and Chelsea Review, 2015

There are some choices in life that are socially acceptable to choose a thrifty option; Flights under two hours and HDMI cables, for example. However, conversely, there are some purchases that polite society would never deem acceptable, and top of that particular list is knitwear, where only one option is agreeable if you value your social standing.

For decades, a cashmere-less wardrobe has been both an unforgivable fashion faux-pas, and a guarantee that you’ll pull a misshapen ex-jumper out of the washing machine after a couple of weards. However, what if we told you that, like a wooly form of communism, not all cashmere is made equal?

Whilst Marx and Engels didn’t have sweaters on their minds when creating their manifesto, it is however true that in the world of fine fibres there are big quality differences between the kind of cashmere you want in your wardrobe, and the kind you most definitely don’t.

To find out more, we caught up with the founder and eponymous creative spirit behind high-end cashmere brand, Susie Pringle.

We meet Susie in a Chelsea hotel suite after a VIP fitting, which is in the process of over-running by our arrival. A charming PA makes us tea in the anteroom as we wait, whilst two rather robust looking security details stand motionless at the door to the fitting room, occasionally talking into their lapels. After five minutes of inactivity, the door swishes open, and out glides the most contemporary of royals, sweeping serenely through the room, with a sharp suited assistant clutching three bags of cashmere.

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Moments later the brand’s founder steps through to greet us, with a natural smile and warm welcome. Pringle is an engaging presence, and full of life, and guides us through to the fitting room, with her new collection laid out.

After some back and forth about the tea, it becomes clear that Susie’s passion for all things cashmere is real, as she holds court about why it’s so important for consumers to receive the very best quality of wool.

“What makes good cashmere”, begins the entrepreneur, “is the fibre that comes from the finest under-hair beneath the thick exterior coat of the cashmere goat, living in the frigid plateaus of Inner Mongolia. This is to be distinguished from fibre from Outer Mongolia or Iran, which is second and third grade, respectively. All my cashmere is made from first grade fibre, sourced exclusively from Inner Mongolia.

“This is not the whole story, however, and there follows a very important step, with all production created in Scotland. The heritage of Scottish cashmere is akin to Scotch whisky, in so far as its natural characteristics and talent in the industry give it world-class ability. For example, the abilities of Scottish spinners and dyers are unsurpassed, and it is the unique soft Scottish water that produces the vibrant colours and allows process washing without the need for detergent.”

When viewing the latest collection it becomes clear what she means by fibre quality, with many household premium brands feeling cheap and itchy in comparison, often due to blending fibres for cost-efficiency purposes.

But, how did the brand founder come to be the Queen of cashmere? “Some 25 years ago, before the huge influx of foreign cashmere imports, whilst spending time in the country at my bolt hole from London I identified a significant gap in the market as I was constantly asked what to wear for smart/casual suppers in the country.

“Cashmere had long been a staple for women between the ages of 30 and 85, so I started to design a range of knitwear, made from the very best quality fibre and structure, and which was only to be made exclusively in Scotland, and not just ‘finished’ there, as so many brands use this to claim Scottish provenance.

“I proceeded originally to sell my designs from the Harbour Club in London, and acquired a substantial following both in London and the country, including Diana Princess of Wales. This propelled the company to where it is today.”

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As for spotting bad cashmere, what does the Susie suggest? “There are several obvious signals, but often not quite apparent until you try to wash it, or after it has been worn a few times. Sometimes just holding it up to the light will give the clue, as in many instances you will be able to see through cheap cashmere. Likewise, if you stretch bad cashmere and it does not ping back in to shape then you have your answer as poor tension is a giveaway, as is excessive fluffiness which indicates weak fibres.

“On a general note, more expensive but good cashmere may be harder to handle in the shop and not appear so soft, but bear in mind that the best cashmere improves with age, and it will ease up with wear and careful washing.”

Before we go, we ask Pringle, as a successful businesswoman, about the future the UK fashion industry. Does she believe overseas price differentiation will make life unsustainable for quality British brands?

“I think that the UK fashion industry has a great future, despite the competition of foreign imports, including great volumes of cashmere from places like China. There are still huge quality control issues with a great many of these competitors, and while there is always demand at the cheap throwaway end of the market we see an enhanced understanding of quality and durability with customers who are becoming more discerning all the time. Correspondingly, while pricing is important, our customers understand that Scottish cashmere is the best, and will serve them well for many years and make them feel special.

“Broadly, I think that fashion industry production is now filtering back to the UK, and we see good future growth in the discerning body of purchaser demographics, reflected in our own wide ranging customer base.”

Susie Pringle is the founder of Susie Pringle Cashmere. Find out more at www.susiepringle.com

 

As originally published in The Kensington and Chelsea Review, 2015. See full article below:

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