Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shahtoosh

For centuries the famous weavers of Kashmir have gathered and produced shawls from the rarest fiber in the world, Shahtoosh. These fabulous, prized shawls are so exclusive that the name Shahtoosh, meaning "king of fine wools", is synonymous with exclusivity. The Kings of Persia were especially partial to this most unique wool, thus the name Shahtoosh.

The rare Tibetan antelope called the Chiru is the only animal that produces Shahtoosh fibers. The chiru is exceedingly rare, lives in the most remote geography on the planet and is now on the international endangered species list. It is against the law to buy or sell new Shahtoosh shawls or woven products. Shahtoosh is still an object of great desire, and an even more interesting story.

The hair of the chiru is so exceedingly fine that it is considered impossible to weave, except by the Kashmiri weavers. Chiru wool fibers measure between 9 and 11 micro-meters in size. A completed Shahtoosh shawl can be passed through the inside diameter of a wedding ring. The finished pieces are exceedingly rare, priced for potentates purses only and lustily sought after.

The chiru lives at an altitude of over 5000 meters. The chiru's very light down fur is incredibly light, soft, strong and warm. For centuries the nomads of the Himalaya's hunted the chiru for meat and skins. They had no use for the wool fiber. They could never figure how to weave it.

It wasn't until the British Raj that appreciation and demand for the luxury and beauty of Shahtoosh and Pashmina was popularized. The British spread stories of the unique qualities of shawls made from Shahtoosh and the drive to harvest chiru was on. The chiru cannot be domesticated and the fiber is so difficult to handle that the only source of the animal's wool was hunting, and ultimately over-hunting.

The harvesting of chiru for their fine wool was fortuitous for Kashmir's skilled weavers. Only they possessed the skill and patience to handle and produce shawls from the micro-fibers. Their fame spread worldwide. They prospered as demand for these loftily prices shawls boomed among the world's elite.

Unfortunately for the Kashmiri weavers the laws of supply and demand cannot be suspended. As the chiru population became near extinct, and the animal became a protected species, the work of weaving Shahtoosh shawls disappeared. The fiber has virtually disappeared as international trade has been suspended.

Today, the prime market for Shahtoosh shawls is in estate and private sales. The kashmiri weavers have not worked with the fiber for so long, that their weaving skills have atrophied and disappeared. There is a small bit of poaching of chiru occurring but not enough to sustain a commercial enterprise. The Shahmina fiber, a 13 micro-meter wool, is the nearest legally produced wool to approximate Shahtoosh. However, it is not considered as exotic or unique, though still expensive.

The world's rarest, most highly prized wool fiber is not for sale, at least legally. The demand would boom if supply could be maintained, and critically, there were artesian craftsmen like the Kashmiri weavers who could manage and control the impossibly difficult chiru wool. "The King of fine wool" is now but a great legendary exotic chimera.

Article Source & image: http://EzineArticles.com/6354797

2 comments:

kenza said...

When I lived in India, I was approached several times regarding Shahtoosh of course refusing every time. Prices were astronomical.
To tell you frankly I bought some pashminas in Kashmir that were as amazing (very large, you can slide them through a ring, very warm) that hurt no one and help local producers --these are different from the ones you find in the west, even the most expensive, with colors restricted to white, black and beige.

Yoli said...

I was innocently looking for one and stumbled upon this article in horror. I thought the animals were shaved. Even if I could, understanding now what actually happens, I never would.