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Mere Cash Couldn't Buy Cashmere If Someone Hadn't Combed the Himalayas for Goat Coats

Definitive

May 28, 1993|JOHN MORELL

High in the exotic Himalayas, farmers breed an animal that produces one of the softest fabrics known to man--cashmere. For centuries, the cashmere goat has been providing meat, milk and clothing to the natives of India and Tibet. In the Middle Ages, traders brought its soft fur to Europe, where it became popular with royalty.

Rather than shearing the goat, the animal is combed and the fine strands of cashmere are collected in baskets. The strands are fashioned into a fabric that is woven into clothing that keeps one warm in winter and is lighter and more comfortable than wool in the spring and fall.

Cashmere is made into jackets, slacks and scarves, but it's more popularly known for the luxuriously soft sweaters it creates. The classic cashmere sweater is either a pullover or cardigan, and although bright colors are popular, the traditional solid navy, cream or red sweater leads in sales, according to local retailers.

The pullover style is the oldest sweater. It developed as a way to keep horsemen warm underneath their armor in 13th-Century Europe. The cardigan became popular in England in the mid-19th Century, as word got out about the bravery of James Thomas Brudenell, a British major during the Crimean War.

During the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, Brudenell was one of the leaders on the front, and only he and a handful of his men survived the battle.

After the war, he retired and his legend spread through Lord Tennyson's poem about the brigade. Those who visited Brudenell complimented his casual sweater, which was open down the front and could be buttoned closed when the weather dipped. But rather than calling it the "Brudenell," it was called the "cardigan," since Brudenell was the seventh earl of Cardigan.

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