Friday, December 30, 2011

Cashmere is complicated - treat it respect for the cosiest of relationships

Once a luxury item only available to the affluent few, cashmere is now a high-street stalwart. But don't let it take you to the cleaners.
BY Luke Leitch | 28 December 2011

Cashmere vintage cropped cardigan, £229, Brora;
Cashmere vintage cropped cardigan, £229, Brora;

Cashmere is the smoked salmon of fashion. Not so terribly long ago, it was an exotic, exclusive and extremely expensive luxury available only to the highly affluent few.
Now the development of intensive Chinese production facilities has transformed cashmere into a delicacy so democratised that you can get a lovely, soft, 100 per cent goat-fleece jumper for under £50 (even before Christmas, Uniqlo was offering a very fine £29:95 V-neck). In 2009, the Scottish Cashmere Club reported its strongest-ever sales and, despite the economic downturn, anecdotal evidence from retailers suggests our appetite for cashmere continues to be almost as keen. Jo Hooper, head of buying womenswear at John Lewis, said: "Cashmere has become a staple yarn in people's wardrobes - an everyday luxury. Sales of men's and women's cashmere have done well this season."

At Marks & Spencer, men's V-neck cashmere jumpers (£69, currently down to £39 on sale) were the biggest-selling garment online in the week before Christmas. Over in womenswear, M&S reported nearly-as-strong sales, with all styles in grey, and red button through crew-neck cardigans proving particularly popular.

A notch or two up the cashmere quality index (veering towards organic Smoked Salmon territory), Victoria Stapleton, the founder of Brora, says that she has "seen the popularity of what we do increase annually, despite some tricky recent years. December is a big month for us, and the majority of what we sell this month is heading straight for the Christmas tree."

If these retailers are correct, the upshot is that there are, at present, many thousands of people across the nation relishing the first few wears of their 100 per cent cashmere Christmas gifts. This is the giddy, carefree stage of the relationship. Quickly, however, cashmere becomes complicated: for, although reinvented as a low-cost, fast-fashion fabric, this ultra-soft fibre demands careful handling. And the nub of the problem is in the washing. Treated with disrespect, your cashmere jumper will suddenly develop chimpanzee-suitable stretched arms, expand alarmingly at the waist, or - worst of all - shrink. The most challenging cashmere scenario is to discover the three costly words "Dry Clean Only" printed on the laundry label.

The Closet Thinker: The joy of cashmere
With a little bit of knowledge, however, it is possible to have a long-term, low-maintenance relationship with cashmere.

Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd are two New Yorkers who left their jobs in fashion to educate the new cashmere-wearing constituency about how best to treat their jumpers. The business partners, who run a cleaning products company called The Laundress, first met at Cornell University as students of fibre science, but ended up working at Chanel (Whiting, as a sales executive) and Ralph Lauren (Boyd, as a homewares designer).

These jobs, says Whiting, meant that "there was lots of cashmere in our lives. And a great deal of it said 'Dry Clean Only'. We knew from our textile background that wasn't right. Cashmere isn't meant to be dry-cleaned, it's meant to be washed. It's an animal hair; and washing it is like washing your own hair. Dry cleaning is the equivalent of giving cashmere a perm: not so good."

More and more cashmere manufacturers now mark their products "Dry Clean Only" as a form of protection, says Whiting: "It means that if there is any damage or other issues you have to bring it up with the cleaners, and not the manufacturer." And should you wash a DCO-marked garment that then develops the dreaded chimp-arms (most likely because it's been hung, not laid flat, to dry), you won't have a leg to stand on if you complain.

It was this confusing cashmere advice that inspired Whiting and Boyd to quit their jobs, found The Laundress, and concoct their first product: a cedar-extract, sulphite-free Wool & Cashmere Shampoo (available at They urge all new cashmere owners to avoid dry cleaning, and invest a little time instead, "just get to know the fabric a little and care for it properly."

Alongside the cashmere reviews on this page are a few key hand-washing points, plus a run-down of a highly-effective drying technique that reduces the chance of chimp-arm to nil. Other Laundress tips include to not wash your cashmere often - "People tend to overwash" - and avoid shaving off any bobbles: "It's invasive, aggressive, and takes off much more cashmere than you need to". A cashmere comb will do the trick much better.

Their most revelatory advice of all is that you can put all cashmere in the washing machine . "As long as you can adjust your water temperature to cold, and your cycle to low, then, sure, you can machine wash it," says Whiting. "But the less agitation the better. So we advise you turn your items inside out and put them in a mesh bag. And stay away from what you guys call non-bio: you can't have any enzymes."
Cashmere: it's complicated.

Wash & Go? Our eight cashmere picks
For women...
Classic crew-neck pull over, £170, Eric Bompard; 100 per cent cashmere.
Feels luxuriously smooth - the George Clooney of knits (below). The care instructions were detailed, and gave the option of a machine wash - jackpot for this lazy tester. Came out looking very fluffy. Two firm rolls with a towel and a session on the radiator later, and it was almost as good as new.
Washability: 9/10

Roll-neck jumper, £25 (was £50), F&F at Tesco; 100 per cent cashmere.
Not only did this deep camel-coloured polo (below) have something alluringly MaxMara-ish about it, it sat fetchingly close on the hip and comfortably loose at the neck. The label said machine washable, so in it went, on a cold delicates cycle. Astonishingly, it kept its shape well. A great buy.
Washability: 9/10

Crew-neck sweater, £49.90 (was, £79.90), Uniqlo; 100 per cent cashmere.
A slinky slim silhouette, but this jumper (below) is prone to pilling and has the dreaded dry-cleaning recommendation on the label. I hand washed it in tepid water as thoroughly and as quickly as I could (less time in water the better), popped it on a short spin cycle and dried it flat. Success.
Washability: 6/10

Aran cardigan, £339, Brora; 100 per cent cashmere.
On thickness and softness alone this gorgeous four-ply cardigan (below) is an all-round 10. A handwash with the £5 Brora shampoo (yes, more money, but if you're willing to throw £339 on a cardi, this shouldn't be a problem) and the shape was as good a new.
Washability: 10/10

Regular cashmere cardigan, £95 (was £125), Lands' End; 100 per cent cashmere.
This cosy style isn't of the cropped Nigella Lawson variety, but a wardrobe staple that's perfect to throw over a T-shirt or a dress for instant warmth. Plus, it emerged from a handwash looking almost like new.
Washability: 7/10

For men...
Contrast V-neck jumper, £275, Pringle; 100 per cent cashmere.
What a jumper (below). Wore it on a scratchy-seated 10-hour economy flight, handwashed in hotel, then wore it all the way back and washed it again. Held its shape and absolutely no bobbling.

Slipover jumper, £59, Marks & Spencer; 70 per cent cashmere, 30 per cent wool.

The bargain price and authentically lustrous cashmere softness were only achieved by making a jumper so thin it's transparent when held up to the light. Chilly. Nonetheless, held up extremely well after a careful hand-wash, and showed very little sign of pilling. Mark this down as summer cashmere.
Washability: 8/10

Cable crew-neck jumper, £170 (was £270), Hackett; 100 per cent cashmere.
Easy on the eye, but tricky in the sink. Despite a tender hand wash and flat dry, we experienced discernable shape change - and the beginnings of "gorilla arms" - after just one dousing (below).
Washability: 5/10

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our Wool & Cashmere Kit is featured in Gracious Home's holiday ad in New York Magazine...

The Laundress Stocking Stuffers

For all your lightweight sweaters, blankets and scarves…
[ shop now

 For the cashmere lover…
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 A conversation piece for sure!
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  Chapstick is so last year…stuff with this instead.
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 For your clothing… not your face!
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One can never show enough love to their cashmere.
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 Giving up sponges is the New Year’s resolution!
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 A natural anti-bacterial soap bar, with no added chemicals.
[ shop now

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Laundress 3rd Anniversary Party in Japan!

For more, visit these blogs:

To see more pictures of the event, visit:

Scrub The Halls - The New York Times

By Jesse McKinley

For most of us, the holiday season is a time of lists. There are wish lists, shopping lists, naughty and nice lists. But way down on the litany of to-do is one particular item that many find as offputting as coal in a Christmas stocking: clean the house.

After all, this is the time of year when you open your home to all manner of friends and family, who come to town to celebrate and, surely, to evaluate your housekeeping.

It’s not an uncommon concern. We all have visions of holiday perfection for the house, but beyond the garlands and nutcrackers — and a reasonably upright tree — most of us fail in our pursuit of perfection.

Yet for a select breed of the hyper-tidy, this is a time to shine. Call them extreme cleaners (nice) or neat freaks (naughty), but these super-sanitary few are the keepers of the secrets to making a house as clean and welcoming as a Charlie Brown special.

Sabrina Cusin, who runs a high-end cleaning service called (no kidding) New York’s Little Elves, is currently dealing with the annual flood of holiday deep-cleaning jobs. And with the neurotic customer demands that inevitably come with it.

“We have people who say, ‘I only want you to bring new mops, sponges, brooms and unopened fluids,’ ” she said. “What can I say? Some people never wear underpants twice. One woman insisted on new vacuums. I drew the line. So she went out and bought two Mieles.”

That doesn’t sound so unreasonable to Nancy Bock. Ms. Bock, a spokeswoman for the American Cleaning Institute, said there was nothing outrageous about insisting on virgin machines and supplies. Not if it offers “the certainty that the product is the one that was originally poured into that bottle and that nobody else’s sponge has touched the lip.”
After all, she added, “What’s extreme?”

For some, the need to keep things just so isn’t confined to the holidays. Having invested in the services of a well-known interior decorator, they feel a responsibility to maintain the look.
So designers like Steven Gambrel furnish certain clients with what amounts to an operating manual for the d├ęcor, something known in the trade as a maid’s book: a collection of photographs documenting the precise arrangement of pillows, tableware, curtains and even the contents of the hall closet (no puffy coats, no trailing scarves).

No detail is left out. One photo, for example, shows the exact amount of sheet that should be folded back over the blanket — to the nearest inch — when making a bed.

“There’s a frustration when the decorator leaves that the place is never going to look as good as when he styled it,” Mr. Gambrel said. “The book is a document that allows for no misinterpretation.”

When it comes to housekeeping, there are a number of reliable manuals. Martha Stewart’s “Homekeeping Handbook” is, of course, required reading for the obsessive-compulsive domestic diva.
Another standard text is Cheryl Mendelson’s “Home Comforts,” an 884-page tome with chapters like “Peaceful Coexistence With Microbes” and a somewhat sexy-sounding section, “The Cave of Nakedness,” having to do with bedrooms. (The title is about as racy as the chapter gets.)

A casual reader might also pick up “Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home,” which offers simple, practical advice. (“Got toothpaste dripping down the side of your sink? Dab it up with a cloth and rub it on your sink and shower faucets,” Mrs. Meyer advises, something she promises will actually brighten them up. Just like your teeth.)

All of these books, however, pale in comparison with the recently published “National Trust Manual of Housekeeping” (National Trust; $75), which tops 900 pages and weighs seven pounds. It includes tips on everything from how to align your doormat (10 feet of coconut matting is recommended to truly demuck one’s galoshes, after a good night of caroling) to the proper method of moving a dining room chair (lift from the seat rails, not the back, to avoid stressing it; at least the chair will be relaxed, even if you’re not).

In addition to offering historical context (who knew that the word housekeeping dates to 1538?) and lavish photographs of the kind of places you’ll never live in, the manual also gives detailed advice about the care and cleaning of things like archaeological collections and armor, drawn from centuries of oh-so-British care of historic homes. (There is some stuff for commoners as well.)

At the end of the day, though, who can compete with the National Trust? Or with Ms. Stewart or Ms. Mendelson, for that matter? Not that some don’t try.

Consider Pam Schneider, a learning specialist with homes in New York and London. As if holiday travel weren’t bad enough, Ms. Schneider said she was so obsessed with keeping house that she travels with cleaning products she can’t find abroad, like Swiffer dusters and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.

“People call me the Felix Unger of the millennium,” Ms. Schneider said. “Everyone says my house is like a hospital.”

She isn’t the only one who commutes with cleaning supplies. Kathryn Ireland, a Los Angeles-based decorator, said she brings stacks of brown paper bags from her local Trader Joe’s to her house in France.
Why? To remove wax from tablecloths, of course. (Running a hot iron over a bag laid on top of the tablecloth draws the wax out.) For while the French believe in long, candlelight dinners, they “don’t believe in brown paper bags,” Ms. Ireland said, and she’d just as soon avoid long hours spent hunting for them in France.

For people like Ms. Ireland and Ms. Schneider, cleaning isn’t a chore; they actually enjoy it. Carolyn Forte, a director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, feels the same way. In fact, Ms. Forte chooses to spend her vacation days washing the windows of her split-level house in Livingston, N.J., something that has apparently made an impression on the neighbors.

“I have a neighbor who won’t buy an appliance or cleaning product without asking me,” she said.

When it comes to cleaning, attention to detail is all-important, Ms. Forte noted. Most people miss a number of spots, she said, including “telephone buttons, vacuum brushes, remote controls, undersides of rugs, toothbrush holders.” Especially when they are rushing to get ready for the holidays.

For last-minute cleaning, there are a few tools she recommends, including Scotch-Brite toilet scrubbers. “The cleaner is already in the sponge, which is shaped to get under the rim,” she said. “When you’re done, you eject it from the wand directly into the trash.”

But Sally Carle, who once worked as a designer for Pierre Cardin in Paris and now lives in Maryland, does Ms. Forte one better. Ms. Carle, in her mid-50s, removes her toilet seats to clean behind the screws. She also uses Clorox as a verb, as in “I just Cloroxed the kitchen sink.”

And her preferred tool for detailing, she said, is a toothbrush.

Of course, she diligently sterilizes and labels it carefully, she added, for obvious reasons. “It’s marked ‘loo,’ ” she said.

Good to know.

Getting Ready for the Inspection 
LIKE visions of sugar plums dancing in children’s heads, the picture-perfect holiday home is probably also a dream. Still, there are a number of tips — from experts both foreign and domestic — to help one prepare the manger for company, and care for furnishings after they go. It all begins at the front door.

“Focus on what they’ll see first” is the advice of Thelma A. Meyer, a k a Mrs. Meyer of Clean Day fame, who says that a first impression can overcome whatever dirt might rear its head after dessert. In “Mrs. Meyer’s Clean House,” she recommends a solid scrub of your entry, a good shake of the doormat and a full-scale assault on the floors, sofa and chair legs, where “dust tends to gather.”

People tend to congregate in the kitchen, where the food and alcohol is, so cleaning gurus also suggest concentrating efforts there. On her Web site, Martha Stewart offers a seven-point plan, including dusting light fixtures, flushing the drain with boiling water and wiping, wiping and more wiping.

Then, of course, there is the commode, the longtime cleaning foe of bachelors. Cheryl Mendelson, the author of “Home Comfort,” depicts the bathroom as a war zone, complete with “high populations of pathogens,” stained tile and the dreaded soap scum. To conquer the latter, she suggests using undiluted liquid detergent, then water, scouring powder and a stiff brush, and finally polishing with a towel. “The results,” she writes, “will amaze you.”

Nothing can ruin a good time like a terrible smell. Elimination of nasty odors is the objective of all manner of folk remedy — orange peels, lemon juice, incense, open windows — but many swear by a good old blast of vinegar. The Laundress, a maker of specialty detergents, sells scented vinegar that can be used to create a “vinegar bomb,” which may not only vanquish bad smells but create a subconscious desire for a nice salad.

Which brings us to another time-honored holiday tradition: deception. (See Claus, Santa.) Mrs. Meyer suggests brewing coffee to camouflage smells, not to mention waking up sleepy relatives. She also suggests low light to minimize whatever blemishes might remain when guests arrive.

Finally, there is the task of cleanup. “The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping” has miles of how-to advice on caring for the important serving dishes and tableware in your manor, including your silver, which should always be stored in an antitarnish bag; delicate ceramics, which should never be held by the handle, a weak spot; and china, which should be washed with only mild detergent. The manual has plenty of other tips, all of which can be enjoyed — fireside, with a small brandy — during the period that many holiday makers enjoy most: after everyone’s gone home.


Originally posted here.


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