Life & Style

December 4, 2015

The Evolution of Cashmere

From lingerie to performance sportswear, Kit and Ace, Dhu and ADAY are delivering low maintenance warmth for all seasons

  • Written by Annette Lin

“Time is precious. That’s kind of what we’re all about,” explains the sales assistant at the Kit and Ace store on Spring St, New York. “You shouldn’t have to spend your day taking care of your cashmere. Who has the time?”

Nobody. Which is why JJ and Shannon Wilson, members of the Lululemon founding family (she’s the wife of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson; he’s Chip’s son from a previous wife), dived headfirst into launching Kit and Ace, purveyors of Technical Cashmere™. The brand launched last year, and already boasts over 60 stores (including pop-ups) in Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and Japan.

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KIT AND ACE SoHo pop-up store

The SoHo pop-up store is a pristine temple of white. Copper-topped coat hangers hold loose, long-sleeved tees and turtlenecks, the finger-spaced displays punctuated by surprisingly avant-garde skirts and jackets that would look more at home in the atelier of a Belgian designer than, well, in anything remotely Lululemon-related. At the back, a range of scarves your mother would appreciate for Christmas hangs next to some racy underwear. A pure aesthetic vision is not the aim here; what ties everything together is the fact that, at the heart of every piece, lies cashmere.

“Soft, smooth, and hard to beat on a warmth-to-weight ratio, perhaps cashmere’s main downside is that it’s usually more high maintenance than a Kardashian.”

From six percent to 100, there’s cashmere in everything. Most of it’s not only machine-washable—hence the earlier pitch—but it’s also more resilient than your average knit. (Although the instructions specify a low temperature, the sales assistant confesses she often throws hers in on high and has never experienced a problem.) It’s cashmere 2.0 –all the softness with none of the hassle.

Long considered the ne plus ultra of fibres, cashmere has been traded since at least the 14th century. Historically, it’s associated with various high-society glamour girls, including Empress Josephine Bonaparte, whose collection of shawls ran into the hundreds. Soft, smooth, and hard to beat on a warmth-to-weight ratio, perhaps its main downside is that it’s more high maintenance than a Kardashian. A delicate fibre that must be treated carefully, it has yet to claim a majority stake in most people’s wardrobes – and you probably wouldn’t lounge around the house for a session of Netflix and chill (literally, not metaphorically) in it.

KIT AND ACE

Kit and Ace is the current incumbent in the race to restate cashmere as an elevated, everyday luxury, of course. Shannon was the driving force behind the existence of the brand – during a sabbatical in Australia, she conceived the idea of an easy-care cashmere blend and spent the next two years developing it. The result was Technical Cashmere™, which “combines technical attributes with luxury fibres,” she says. (It’s a mix of viscose with elastane and cashmere.)

“This is cashmere 2.0 – all the softness with none of the hassle.”

Their Rosemary Long Sleeve (pictured above, right), a key piece according to the sales assistant at the store, uses this blend and though the whisper-thin shirt has the hand feel of regular viscose, it actually does emanate a soft heat generated by the cashmere element. The sculptural Kemble bomber jacket contains only six per cent cashmere—but it’s enough to make the neoprene-esque cotton and polyurethane fabrication punch far above its weight in warmth.

Meanwhile, transatlantic digital fashion startup ADAY are testing the waters in accessories. The label’s main focus is Acne Studios and Alexander Wang inspired daywear that happens to have sportswear attributes, and they’ve just released hand warmers, beanies and socks in time for winter. Their chosen blend—this time developed by a knit technology company and which they discovered at the Première Vision textile fair—consists of wool, viscose, cashmere and elastane. The result is more akin to pure cashmere than Kit and Ace’s, although it doesn’t feel as delicate.

Dhu

They’ve termed it “Next Gen Cashmere”, but it’s also about combining cashmere with other materials for a fabric that takes on the best of all worlds, says product and apparel designer Mikaela Mullings. “Nylon and viscose are really resilient fabrics, and of course wool has been used quite a lot in outdoor pieces, so even though they’ve got a low amount of cashmere, the pieces are washable, breathable, warm and soft – plus you’ve got that luxury of making cashmere fit into your life.”

Scottish brand Dhu couldn’t agree more. With its spiritual home in the far north Scottish highlands, it was founded by Ian Moore in 2012—which practically makes it a granddaddy compared to the other fledgling brands—and he’s made it his mission to reintroduce the comfort of cashmere to the active outdoor world.

“People would tell me that when they went hiking, they would go to a charity shop and buy a cashmere sweater, cut off the arms and use it as a gilet. I thought, there has to be a better way.”

“Historically, cashmere was used as a functional insulation layer – certainly in the first ascent of Everest in 1953.” But, he says, he would speak to people while travelling as a businessman and “they would tell me that when they went hiking, if they wanted to wear cashmere, they would go to a charity shop and buy a cashmere sweater, cut off the arms and use it as a gilet. I thought, there has to be a better way.”

His focus, unlike Kit and Ace or ADAY, is on pure, natural fibres: either 100 percent cashmere, or a mix of merino wool, silk and cashmere for an ultra-lightweight base layer. Even so, he says the focus is similar to the other brands: “We share the same goals: to be able to use cashmere in a modern environment.”

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Opening image: ADAY

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