October 31, 2011

How To: Shop For Cashmere

Via French By Design

A few months ago, a lovely reader emailed me about shopping for cashmere. In my opinion cashmere is one of life's little luxuries. Wrapping up in cashmere is one of my favorite things about cooler weather. I rely on cashmere year-round. During the summer I keep a lightweight cashmere cardigan at work to defend against aggressive air conditioning. Even in intense Hong Kong heat, I found it useful to have a cashmere wrap or cardigan in malls and restaurants. I'm partial to cashmere because I'm a bit allergic to most wools. 

When it comes to shopping for cashmere I'm admittedly picky. Here's my guide to shopping for cashmere. 

What Is Cashmere?
Cashmere is a soft woolen fabric derived from the wool of the Kashmir goat. It's a wonderful lightweight insulator. Cashmere has a smooth, soft texture that is incredibly warm. Cashmere fibers can be spun into lightweight or thick yarn for clothing. 
Where Does Cashmere Come From?
Cashmere wool comes from the underbelly of the Kashmir goat. The fibers found on a goats underbelly are the longest staple fibers. The Kashmir goat has a double fleece which contains a soft, fine undercoat. This is the wool that is used to make cashmere sweaters. Kashmir goats are native to the Gobi desert; northern and northwestern China and Southern Mongolia. Kashmir goats are also bred in India and Tibet. China is the largest producer of raw cashmere.

From March until May nomadic herders who care for the goats take them in for the wool to be harvested. The coarse outer coat is separated from the softer cashmere fibers found on the undercoat. The harvesting of pure cashmere is incredibly labor intensive and makes cashmere garments expensive. Everything from a goat's diet to the harshness of the winter impacts the softness of the cashmere. The dying and production process affects the softness of cashmere as well. 
Where to Begin
Since cashmere is a natural fiber there is great disparity when it comes to quality. Higher end sweaters are made from the softest fibers from the goats belly and neck. Mass-produced sweaters are made of shorter-staple fibers from the back and legs of the goat. A garment's label won't indicate that it's made from shorter-staple fibers, but when you pick up the garment it may be coarse, bumpy or rough. 

When it comes to high quality cashmere, it's best to buy from a company that specializes in it. Tse, Johnson's of Elgin and Loro Piana are among the best when it comes to luxury cashmere. Generally speaking Italy and Scotland produce some of the worlds finest cashmere garments. I've had great success with high-end department store cashmere. Larger specialty department stores put their cashmere through rigorous testing, so it tends to be of superior quality. 

Affordable Options 
I highly recommend J.Crew for affordable cashmere that doesn't sacrifice quality. J.Crew offers the most vibrant colors- hands down. I've also found that J.Crew cashmere doesn't pill terribly. Regardless of price, cashmere has to be taken care of properly and maintained. Even if you purchase the most expensive cashmere, if it's not cared for properly it won't hold up.
Raw cashmere is found in shades of grey, brown and white. The dying process significantly impacts the softness. It use to drive me crazy when I would touch the same cashmere sweater in different colors and notice that each color felt a bit different. I ended up adding a few bright cashmere garments to my wardrobe because they felt the softest. Darker colors, such as navy and black are never as soft as their bright counterparts because the yarn absorbs more of the dye.

Label Checking
I'm big on checking labels to see where garments are made and the materials. In the US, The Federal Trade Commission regulates that cashmere garments are properly labeled. Garment labels must list the exact fiber content, country of origin, manufacturer and maintenance/care instructions. Only garments made of 100% cashmere can be labeled as pure cashmere. If a sweater is a blend, then the manufacturer is required to state the percentage of the garment that is cashmere and the percentages that are made up of other materials. 

I'm extremely skeptical of cashmere blends when it comes to knitwear. In most cases, very little cashmere is used and the garment isn't noticeably softer. Coats are one exception I make when it comes to blends.

Ply refers to the number of strands of cashmere used to make up the yarn count for any knitted garment. The more plies the stronger and warmer the garment. Additional plies will also make a garment appear chunkier. If you're searching for a super warm garment you can go up to four or eight plies, but a two ply garment should provide more than enough warmth. Be weary of cashmere that you can see through- that's a good indicator that it's 1 ply and won't be very durable or warm. 
Pick It Up 
When it comes to cashmere, picking up the garment is the only way to gauge whether the garment will pill. 

Cashmere should drape. It shouldn't wrinkle when you ball up the fabric. Good cashmere will spring back to its' natural shape. 

Gently rub your hand over the sweater. If it's made from a shorter-staple fibers even the most gentle rubbing will cause pilling and fuzz. It's important to note that wearing your cashmere creates pills overtime. Pilling is one of the nuances of cashmere. The higher the ply the less pilling.

Don't be shy about checking to make sure that a garment isn't itchy. I use the back of my wrist or underneath my chin to determine if  an item is going to be too irritating.

This weekend's snow storm (yes it really snowed ALREADY) has me thinking about pulling out my favorite cashmere pieces to stay warm. How do you stay warm?

October 27, 2011

Color Story

My Personal Photos

Chanel Necklace, Banana Republic Sweater, Luca Luca Skirt, Wolford Merino Ribbed Tights 

If there is one thing I love about autumn dressing it's the rich colors and textures. I've been anxiously awaiting wearing tweeds and woolen fabrics. I adore jackets and skirts in woven nubby textures. We're having a mild ease into autumn, but I've slowly started wearing my favorite textured pieces. I love the intricate woven texture of this skirt. It's crafted in such a way that the weave of the skirt becomes a detail of its' own. Most importantly, this skirt is lined properly in a beautiful silk. I rely on Luca Luca for luxurious skirts in fall fabrics. Luca Luca is synonymous with ladylike, sophisticated and elegant clothing with clean lines. We're talking about clothing for grown ups, which is always refreshing.

Navy has been pulling at my heartstrings for some time. I know a lot of people find navy limiting, but I love it with this salmon colored sweater. It's one of those color combinations that instantly lifts my spirits. 

Hope you are all having a good week. I must say, I'm so touched by your birthday wishes and emails. My birthday is today, but I have very sweet friends who have been celebrating with me all week. 

October 24, 2011

Little Happy List #3

Via This is Glamorous

Hope you all had a lovely weekend and the work week begins. I had the perfect autumn weekend. The weekend was filled with crisp early morning walks, a trip to the Daphne Guinness exhibit, putting the finishing touches on two upcoming benefits and a luxurious brunch. This fall has been a flurry of activity, so it's always nice to spend a little time unwinding. In honor of all things autumn, it's time for another happy list. Here's to happiness. 

1) Hermès orange
Via This is Glamorous
The leaves have yet to fully change, but I'm loving the little pops of Hermès orange turning up everywhere. I can't be the only person who finds those orange boxes worth displaying.

2) Champagne toasts

Via From Me to You
The perfect evening toasting a friend's recent and very chic wedding. There's nothing like a nice evening with friends. This boîte is sure to become one of my favorite after work spots.

3) Bow Tie Tutorial

Via Mr. Porter
A November filled with black tie events means it's time to brush up on my bow tying skills for the gentleman. This step by step guide is excellent. 

4) Grey Cashmere Knits

Courtesy of The Coveteur

I've been living in my favorite gray O neck lightweight cashmere sweater. It's been a bit warm for knits, but I'm looking forward to wearing them this fall. 


My birthday is this week and I'm thinking birthday macaroons from Ladurée in lieu of  cupcakes. Macaroons are always the perfect amount of sweet.

What's making you terribly happy?

October 21, 2011

Les Journées Particulières

The Givenchy Atelier (Fall/Winter 2011 Couture)
Dior Avenue Montaigne Headquarters

One of the most delightful aspects of this blog is that it affords me the opportunity to share my love of craftsmanship, connoisseurship and style with such lovely readers. I have tremendous admiration for the artisans, whose vision and talents are the backbone of the storied fashion ateliers I love. It goes unmentioned that tailors, embroiderers, and pattern makers often spend their entire careers at one house. Last weekend LVMH lifted the curtain on more than 25 of its facilities throughout Europe for the inaugural edition of its Les Journées Particulières initiative. Les Journées Particulières focused on fashion, perfumes, cosmetics  wines and spirits.

The initiative provided visitors with a variety of experiences that highlighted each brand's expertise and allowed artisans to demonstrate their skills. The Louis Vuitton ateliers in Asnières, Palazzo Fendi, Givenchy's haute couture salon and the Salon de Prestige (where Christian Dior use to present his collections) at Dior's Avenue Montaigne headquarters were a few of the sites visitors were able to tour. These facilities are usually closed to the public. One of my biggest frustrations with fashion is that few understand how labor intensive it is to produce luxury goods. LVMH is attempting to engage the public. It's nice to see such a rarefied world unveiled. 

Dior Avenue Montaigne Headquarters
Dior Avenue Montaigne Headquarters
Tailors at work at Dior

At the Givenchy atelier, artisans walked visitors through the process of pattern making, embroidery, drapery and lace application. The embroiderers at Dior spoke to heavily embroidered dresses taking 250-300 hours to complete. I'll never forget when I heard Prabal Guring speak about how his experience at Bill Blass was invaluable because of the access he had to pattern makers and artisans. An independent designer simply doesn't have these sorts of resources. I'm looking forward to the expansion of LVMH's initiative. I hope that other luxury groups consider doing something similar.

PS- The tuxedo just turned 150! How could I not include a picture. 

*** All images courtesy of Les Journées Particulières***

October 17, 2011


My Personal Photos

Burgundy! Burgundy! Burgundy! I've been searching for something burgundy to add to my wardrobe. Burgundy is such a luxe jewel tone for fall. It pairs well with winter white, navy, black and gray. When I spotted these flats I knew they were the perfect way to bring burgundy into my wardrobe. Admittedly, I'm not a girl who opts for flats. We all know I love my heels, even when walking or standing is required. I use my ballerines almost exclusively as a commuting shoe. They're perfect for dashing around town. 

When my favorite pair of ballerines gave way, I decided to replace them with this bright pair. I already have a few black ballerines, so color in a luxurious suede is a perky change. For a girl who lives in heels it may sound strange to say that I often find ballet flats uncomfortable. Too often the leather is stiff with little give. If I'm wearing flats I want them to be just as comfortable as the ballet slippers I grew up wearing. I have trouble finding ballerines that fit my narrow feet. The handcrafted Repettos are paramount when it comes to craftsmanship and comfort. 

Hand sewn with inside-out seams, Repettos appear extremely delicate, but are made from the highest quality materials. Natural deeply dyed leathers are softened to ensure suppleness. There's something comforting in relying on a brand that I wore during childhood. The workable drawstrings enables the shoe to be pulled for a tighter fit, like a true ballet slipper. The option of making the shoes fit snugger is perfect for my narrow feet. 

I can't wait to start the workday in my new ballerines, but first there are a few preemptive care measures that need to be taken. I have always found Repettos to be far more durable than they look, but here are a few care and maintenance tips:

* Prior to wearing, apply a water and stain repellent product. Trusted cobblers have constantly recommended this one. It's great to spray on from time to time. It dries clear and quickly without changing the natural aspects of the suede.

* I can't stand when drawstrings fray or unravel. A tiny drop of liquid sealant prevents the drawstrings from unraveling. The best brands dry clear. 

* Once I've worn my Repettos, I use a suede eraser and a brush to gently remove dirt. 

* After breaking them in I take my ballerines to my cobbler to have the soles resoled. I tend to get so excited to wear my shoes that I put this step off. Having a leather sole put on isn't very expensive but it really extends the shoe's longevity.

*** There are additional care tips here.

October 13, 2011


Courtesy of This is Glamorous
One thing noticeably absent this Fashion Month, was manners. We are all, works in progress, but good manners are synonymous with elegance. There's nothing more sophisticated than grace and good manners. So you can imagine my dismay with people traipsing across the runway to get to their seat, or holding up tablets to take photos. The Business of Fashion  tweeted about the loss of all decorum at the various fashion weeks. There are unspoken rules that forbid standing on the runway or obscuring one's view. The majority of fashion week attendees have been going to shows for years and know better. 

I couldn't help but notice the trend of grooming oneself in public. Not just grooming, but making sure that you put on a show of touching up your makeup in front of the watchful eye of the street style photographers. I'm not talking about swiping on a little lip gloss. I'm talking about red lipstick and eye liner; makeup that requires a mirror and precision to apply. Not to mention the nail clipper, who was clipping away behind me one morning. Those who follow me on twitter know I was pretty grossed out, with the nail maintenance going on as I waited in line. 

Don't get me wrong, I love a good beauty routine, but I firmly believe that personal grooming should be done in private. If I'm in a public place, then I find a restroom to check-up, touch up, reapply, etc. Away from all the glitter of the shows, we're all so busy, and sometimes it's tempting to primp in public. At fashion week there are many places to freshen up without taking personal grooming to the street. I think we can all agree that nail clipping in public is absurd, but how much grooming is too much in public?

PS- While I was searching for a business card case I stumbled upon this Smythson of Bond Street cosmetics case and beauty pouch. Each year, one of the charities which I'm involved with, auctions this off. I think I have my eye on it this year. 

October 8, 2011

Looking Forward

Courtesy of Vogue.com

Carven jumper, Balenciaga trousers, Celine Sandals, Hermès Kelly Bag

This look on Lauren Santo Domingo embodies my idea of the perfect fall outfit. I have long known that the Vogue Contributing Editor and I share a love of Proenza Schouler and impeccably tailored made to measure men's shirts from Ying Tai, but this look stole my heart.  At once Lauren looks polished and effortless. This is the type of look I would wear on a casual Friday at the office or to run errands; if only the weather would cooperate. At the moment, summer has returned leaving me reaching for airy fabrics. 

What instantly caught my eye was the mustard hued Carven knit. For years, a dear friend and former co-worker has repeatedly told me how beautiful mustard would look on my skin tone. Mustard is a gorgeous color, but until recently I haven't felt compelled to bring it into my wardrobe. Mustard takes confidence to pull off, but little by little it has grown on me. 

Courtesy of Vogue.com
A tailored pair of cropped trousers is a great way to transition into fall. The sliver of ankle is so feminine. Bearing a bit of ankle is graceful and adds instant insouciance to any outfit. I'm still living in my cropped trousers. I like that the trousers here are paired with a clean shoe. After seeing such over the top footwear during Fashion Week, it's nice to see a simple, straightforward shoe. The Hermès Kelly polishes off the look. I'm quite fond of structured, ladylike bags that are timeless. It's refreshing to see a look that's paired down and (dare I say it) wearable. 

PS- Has anyone used Lauren Santo Domingo's Moda Operandi? It's the first online luxury fashion retailer to allow members to pre-order full priced designer clothing straight off the runway. I have yet to see any of the items I've fallen in love with available on the site, but the idea fascinates me. I've said it before, but I always end up falling for items that never make their way into stores or are altered from the way they were originally shown on the runway. Moda Operandi is attempting to do away with this. 

I also love that Moda Operandi partnered with Vogue.com to offer a small selection of items for immediate delivery. Burberry had tremendous success when they offered items for immediate purchase after their Spring/Summer 2011 show. It's quite the adjustment to have designers coming up with pricing at the time of the show and getting feedback on designs in a timely manner. It's all part of the changing business of fashion.

October 5, 2011

Happy October!

My Personal Photo
Black Halo Dress and Chanel Necklace

Happy October and a new week begins... I hope you all had restful weekends. The first of October always signifies the start of benefit season. Getting all dressed up with the gentleman for a cause I support is one of my favorite things about fall. That being said there's a lot of hard work involved with making sure that these events are successful. Here I am en route to a meeting for one of the boards I'm on.
My Personal Photo
When it comes to shopping, I firmly believe that if you are nice to the sales assistants you encounter, they will take care of you. That goes for most things in life. This dress was set aside for me by a sales assistant at a boutique that I slip into from time to time. There's something really nice about shopping with someone who's familiar with your style. As soon as this dress came in it was tucked away until I happened to walk by the boutique. It's a great dress to throw on in the midst of a busy week. It's simple, elegant and refined.

My Personal Photo
I always appreciate a good detail and this dress has several. The deep plunging back is resolutely modern. The ruched three-quarter length sleeves balance the exposed back. The pleats and draping at the front are the structural details that I always find myself falling for. Most of all I like that I can move around freely in this dress. Who wants to be restricted their clothing choices?

Do I even have to tell you how excited I was to wear my necklace? So excited.

October 2, 2011

Dries, Dries, Dries

What better way for the Paris shows to commence than with a show which was strongly influenced by mid century couture. Dries Van Noten was particularly intent on exploring the architectural shapes of Spanish and Italian couture during the fifties and sixties. The phenomenal Balenciaga exhibit (I know I can't stop talking about it) at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute instantly came to mind from the opening look. I was hoping someone would use the Balenciaga exhibit as a starting point for their Spring/Summer 2012 collection. When prompted on drawing inspiration from couture, Dries Van Noten mentioned that "it's always about elegance and beauty." It's refreshing to see a collection that's academic and intellectual. One can only imagine the library research that went into this collection. Have I told you all how much I LOVE libraries?

The Balenciaga exhibit is an interesting starting point. The collections haven't offered sweeping changes or a new silhouette, which is fitting given our troubled global economy. The couture influence speaks to the larger questions of what luxury means today. The silhouettes are undeniably couture shapes, but in fabrics typically reserved for ready-to-wear. Imagine my excitement when I saw jackets that are fitted at the front with more drape and volume at the back. The peplums, size of the sleeves, slim trousers, inlaid shoulders, lace, and jackets that skim the wrist are all fifties Balenciaga references. Not to mention the Spanish embroidery on the toreador jackets- pure craftsmanship and workmanship. 

We all know Van Noten can do prints, but it's inspiring to see a designer who isn't afraid to challenge himself. The technical precision; cutting, draping and attention to line demonstrate that Van Noten is a true couturier. These shapes are complicated and sophisticated which requires precise tailoring. Juxtapositions are key aspects of Van Noten's work and the prints digress from the high fashion silhouettes. The prints don't feel as sophisticated or as high fashion to me as they have been in previous seasons. I have a lot of respect for the collaborative process that went into these prints, but personally I prefer a stylized and perhaps more "high fashion" print. 

A lot of designers have been flirting with ladylike style, elegance and refinement, but Dries Van Noten managed to do it in a wearable way that doesn't look kitsch. This collection is chic and grown up, which I always welcome. Can you guess which items I have my eye on?

You can view the complete collection here

PS- I love the last minute decision to do simple pulled back hair and natural makeup. Clothes this pretty don't need overly stylized hair and makeup. 

Credit- Image 5- The New York Times. All other images are from Vogue.com.