Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Passages of Paris - Cashmere fever

Pink Saturday - Beverly at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you!

Shawl seen through the window of Wolff et Descourtis, Galerie Vivienne

In 1798, Napolean Buonoparte brought a gift home to his wife, Josephine. It was a shawl woven from yarn made from the hair of mountain goats in the Himalayas. It was soft, but held the warmth, and yet it was light and gracefully complimented the informal, flowing muslin gowns worn by the court ladies which, following the political aesthetic at the time, evoked classical Greek and Roman images, to celebrate the democratic ideals playing out in the streets of France.

Portrait of Empress Joséphine, 1805, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon

Empress Josephine was being re-gifted - the Ottoman imperial ruler of Egypt, Mameluke Pasha Mehmet Ali, had been given the shawl earlier in the century by an envoy of the Mughal rulers of Kashmir. When Napoleon defeated the Mameluke's army in 1798, the Mameluke gave the French Emperor the Kashmiri shawl in appeasement.

Empress Joséphine, 1809, Antoine-Jean Gros

Josephine loved it. She wanted more shawls. So, too, did all the fashionable ladies in Paris, and that hunger invigorated not only the weaving industries in India and Kashmir, but also French and British entrepreneurs who decided to import and breed the Himalayan goats and start home-grown weaving industries of their own.

Images from Journal des Dames et des Modes, New York Public Library

Scholar and social scientist Walter Benjamin, writing about the covered shopping arcades that sprang up in Paris during the first half of the 19th century, mentioned this fad for Indian cashmere, called "cashmere fever" in newspaper and magazine accounts he quoted in his notes.

Madame Riviere, 1805, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Image from the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

Empress Josephine went on to collect over a thousand cashmere shawls. Every high-class and bourgeoise woman wanted a shawl, and if they couldn't get a cashmere shawl, they wanted something that looked a lot like one.

French fashion plate 1803, New York Public Library

It was kind of like back in the 1990s when everyone wanted a pashmina. Remember that? The pashmina craze of the 1990s was a re-run of the cashmere fever of the 1790s. The same thing happened - the sudden introduction of a new product from the Third World fed a hunger for exoticism, and started a craze that spurred an industry - and inspired a whole lot of charlatans and imitators.

French fashion, 1800, New York Public Library

If you couldn't afford a pashmina, you got something that was blended with rayon and viscose (I have just such a wrap I bought from a street vendor in New York City for $25 and still wear today - it's lovely!)

In Paris during the 1820s and 1840s, ladies wore them to the theatre, and to stroll among the galleries at the Palais-Royal, and as they browsed at the boutiques in the glassed-in passages. Bridegrooms gave them to their wives as wedding gifts. As time went by, mothers passed their cashmere shawls down as heirlooms to their daughters.

French and British weavers learned how to mass-produce the fabric using less luxurious fibers, and soon a woolen shawl woven with a paisley pattern was a common commodity bought by women of all classes, to warm their shoulders in the cold of winter.

This summer, we walked through the Galerie Vivienne, where the Wolff et Descourtis shop sells shawls and quality yard goods. The shop was closed, for lunchtime, but we peeked through the glass at the bolts of brilliantly colored cloth on display.

Lunch was a good idea. We sat down at the Bistrot Vivienne, and enjoyed a nice meal - including a dessert of tarte aux peches.

What a tasty way to enjoy the passages couverts of Paris! I'll make do with my knock-off shawl, and just eat this ice cream.


dana said...

Happy Pink Sat!

I so enjoyed reading your history about those luxurious shawls. . . plus looking at the great pictures/plates. I didn't realize you visited Paris in July! How wonderful. I will return and catch up on your other posts about your trip. It looks like you saw some wonderful places....and had some yummy desserts!


Jacalyn @ said...

Who doesn't love a beautiful cashmere shawl?

Hugs and Happy Pink Saturday,

Mary said...

This was an absolutely fascinating post. I'm so glad I stopped by. I plan to visit more often. Have a wonderful Pink Saturday

someplace in thyme said...

This is surely the perfect pink post. I have always loved beautiful shawls, but have never bought one because it's usually always so warm here. I now believe I have made a mistake and want one. Your post is rich with history and I loved every word of it. It's always amazing to see the birth of something. Happy Pink Saturday, Char

Cottage Rose said...

I really enjoyed reading your post, the history of the cashmere shawl was so interesting... your desert looked so yummy.

Happy Pink Saturday;


LADY JANE'S EMPORIUM said... cream and shawls...a posst after my true favorites! I so enjoyed your post! Happy PS

BethieJ said...

I really ENJOYED your post.. it was fun to read about the history of the shawls! Your dessert looks YUMMY too!
Happy Pink Saturday!

Mumsy said...

Fascinating information, and wonderful pictures..

Thank you for letting me know about the name of my flower, and for the visiting.

Claudia said...

What a wonderful post - and I had no idea of the history of cashmere shawls. I've bought a couple of pashmina shawls from street vendors in NYC. Happy Pink Saturday!

xinex said...

I enjoyed the story, The shawls are beautiful. I think shawls make a lady even more feminine...Christine

Mary said...

Fabulous Pink Saturday post - love the history and the photos. London also has arcades, usually expensive shops and boutiques. Guess they were the precursors for shopping malls.

Guess what, I bought gorgeous 'pashminas' from NYC street vendors for just $5.00 each in December! I'm thrilled with mine and wish I'd bought several more as they seem to be holding up well during the deep freeze!

JCK said...

Happy New Year, dearest G!! I love hearing of your Paris travels. My dream....some day. Some day.

You weave stories and history so beautifully! I hope you had a lovely holiday.

Tricia said...

This is such an interesting blog post - I just love learning about fashions in history. We just studied 19th century and Napoleon in our home school co-op last year. We looked a lot into the clothing brought into fashion by Josephine and how it rebelled against the excesses of the French court of the time - so interesting. So this info about cashmere just added another great dimension to our studies. The shawls are all so beautiful. Hope you had a wonderful Pink Saturday.


stefanie said...

Thank you so much for this great post...I enjoyed reading the history of cashmere...have a wonderful weekend

♥Mimi♥ said...

I'm a day late and a dollar short☺ Was able to leave some messages for Pink Saturday yesterday and finishing up today. Over the holidays I was MIA from PS and really missed it but knew that I wouldn't be able to visit many blogs. I'm back today and must say that it feels so good to visit familiar places - like coming home again.

Today you made my little, pinkie ♥ smile. Thank you so much for sharing your lovely blog. Hoping this next week is filled with sunshine and the laughter of friends and family☺

Beverly said...

Glennis, I am so glad you finished this post. It is fabulous. You are the best at taking us wonderful places, and giving us all the intriguing facts.

Happy Pink Saturday. Oh, and by the way, I recently ordered an ivory pashmina for myself.

Lynn@ The Vintage Nest said...

I love the street vendors in NYC. I also bought a beautiful shawl from one of them this past Fall. Happy Pink Saturday.

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

I bought my mom a pashmina a few years ago, soft pink...she still wears it when she is "up north"! Although, she can probably use it in Florida this year!


Mary said...

Very interesting post about the history of cashmere shawls (at least from the time of Napoleon forward). Beautiful pictures, too.
I can't stop thinking about that French Vanilla ice cream and tarte :p
Happy Pinks~

M. Bouffant said...

Not nearly as interesting or thorough as your reports, but you might want to look.

Vallen said...

I have been immersed in period English films lately and have been drooling over the shawl action therein. I love shawls and the simple act of throwing the edge of one over a shoulder makes me feel romantic.

Anonymous said...

How is it that I just recently (as in the last 2 years) even heard of pashminas?
A shawl is such a beautiful and useful piece of clothing, and cashmere certainly deserves all the hype it has generated in the past!

suhiner said...

If anyone is interested in learning more about the history and social function of cashmere shawls, please check out my book _Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France_, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.