The finest, most storied woven art to have ever flowed across a woman’s shoulders, begins its’ journey in the world’s most rarefied air. Over 5000 metres/16000 feet above sea level in the sweeping Himalayan vistas of Leh & Ladakh in the Kashmir region, in the shadows of snow-shrouded ranges folding endlessly into the horizon, where the last motorable path on Earth ends. This is where pashmina begins. This the world of snow leopards, mystical beliefs, and the nomadic changpa shepherds who tend flocks of the pashmina goat. With the onset of spring, pashmina fiber is painlessly removed from the goats, and transported to the fabled pashmina craftsmen of the verdant Kashmir Valley. And here they craft their legendary pashmina shawls with the world’s most unique luxury fiber, more than seven times finer than the human hair. The fiber is carefully spun, sorted and treated to maximize tensile strength and develop its’ extraordinary texture. The woven properties of pashmina include a remarkable synergy of textures, wherein the fabric moves in smooth flowing caresses, is breathable, and nonetheless, retains its’ inherent warmth. The craftsmen integrate a cultural wisdom that reaches across both time and space, using themes from regions as far flung as
The craftsmen integrate a cultural wisdom that reaches across both time and space, using themes from regions as far flung as Persia and France and motifs from historical eras such as India’s Great Mughal Period. As the craftsmen immerse themselves into the intricacies of the weave, it is said that they approach a trance as their efforts ascend towards master craftsmanship, and each pashmina creation becomes an odyssey unto itself. A trance not dissimilar to the spiritual journeys of the Persian scholar-mystics who discovered pashmina almost eight centuries ago, in fact. Most authentic pashmina creations with any level of embroidered intricacy take months to craft, and some of them – years. They become labours of love sometimes for no reason other than to explore their limitless potential. Luxury originally meant ‘excessive’. Pashmina truly is a luxury. The pashmina mastercraftsmen wield exquisitely complex techniques to create the distinctively ornate and complex patterns that serve as the hallmark of the
The pashmina mastercraftsmen wield exquisitely complex techniques to create the distinctively ornate and complex patterns that serve as the hallmark of the finest pashmina shawls – the single needle-art of Sozni, the multi-genre art applications of Kalamkari, and the legendary kani ways. Luxury is often said to be timeless – that it transcends time. A portrait of Queen Josephine sometimes hangs in the Louvre – the shawl she dons in the portrait, is Kani pashmina. Pashmina is a luxury that authentically transcends both time and space. Its’ patronage has never been confined by borders, and pashmina has become a metaphor for its’ own universality. Pashmina’s flowing, sensual and fabulously soft texture connects the wearer with the extraordinarily complex nearly-spiritual exertions of its’ master crafter, and to the awe-inspiring Himalayan environs that gave it life.
Unfortunately, there are perhaps fewer kani master craftsmen today than there are global Heads of State. The proliferation of fake product adulteration and the corruption of the very word ‘pashmina’ continue to take their toll on creator and consumer. Perhaps we are now witnessing the last masters of woven pashmina. But until it is gone, pashmina will continue to bind the destiny of natural environments, identity, community, and livelihood together. It is a singular luxury transcending borders in an inimitable crucible of ecology and culture. In its’ creation, nothing is hurt, nothing is polluted, everything returns to nature. Pure sustainable heritage luxury. The most spectacular setting on Earth yields the world’s most unique luxury fiber shaped by unsurpassed master craftsmanship.
An Heirloom like no other.
Harjoth Singh is the Co-Founder of Heirloom, a reimagination and revival venture for handwoven, ethical, apex, luxury (HEAL) pashmina. You can visit their Instagram page on heirloom_pashmina or shop with them here