(Published in Dawn Images – The Review on Jan 29, 2012)
Not everyone wants to be bundled up in cumbersome coats and woolen mufflers when it gets chilly. Stylish women also like to keep it elegant and sophisticated with the drape of a simple shawl around their shoulders; something pure and warm to beat the cold without adding too much bulk. And when it comes to shawls, there are essentially only two types: the classic shawl and the contemporary shawl.
The most coveted classic shawl is usually the priceless shahtoosh, Persian for â€˜king of fine woolsâ€™. Pure toosh is woven from the down of (endangered) Tibetan antelopes and is therefore considered very exotic; the shawl is so fine that it can be passed through a wedding ring. Practically weightless and as soft as down, the shahtoosh is what every women desires to have, though the high price (that runs into hundreds of thousands) usually makes it unaffordable. It is more of an heirloom, passed from one generation to another. That said, pure toosh is no longer available and what we see today is a 40 to 50 per cent wool sample.
â€œA shahtoosh shawl in an investment,â€ says connoisseur Mehvash Amin who has an enviable collection of toosh and cashmere shawls. â€œAs far as its usefulness is concerned, toosh is indispensable. You can wear it with a pair of jeans and carry it off. Toosh can be worn with everything.â€
â€œAnd if youâ€™re looking for something formal,â€ she adds, â€œthen go for the intricately embroidered toosh that is also crafted in Indian Kashmir and usually takes artisans years to complete. Itâ€™s amazing to see how sophisticated these veteran craftsmen are; the shawls they craft are so timeless that one would pass them on for generations, like an heirloom.â€ Needless to say, the cost of these shawls is astronomical.
A step down from shahtoosh is the cashmere or pashmina, which is woven from the down of Tibetan mountain goats. Slightly coarser and heavier than the toosh, the cashmere also defines classicism when bought in its pure form, which usually comes in shades of grey, brown and white. Genuinely indigenous to the Sub-continental region, Kashmir to be exact, the toosh and cashmere are regarded as status symbols, afforded and draped by rich connoisseurs of priceless shawls. Itâ€™s a statement both men and women make.
Contemporary shawls, on the other hand, are more of a style statement and accessory rather than a status symbol.
The kalamkari shawl, which is technically is a faux-toosh, is all the rage these days. Priced at around 300,000 rupees, the kalamkari is a relatively cheaper version of the embroidered toosh, which can run up to a whopping million in cost. Itâ€™s attraction lies in its vibrant colour palette, which differentiates it from classic, sophisticated toosh.
Also, the â€˜LVâ€™ (Louis Vuitton) shahtoosh is also flooding the market these days. Craftsmen have caught onto the branding and are weaving shawls with the LV monogram. Women are going crazy over them despite the fact that they too can go up to 25,000 in cost.
â€œA shawl needs to serve as an accessory to an outfit and never an overwhelming part of it,â€ says Maheen Khan who has been designing statement shawls for Nishat Textiles. â€œIt should enhance style instead of shrouding it.â€
And thatâ€™s exactly where the contemporary shawl steps in. For women who cannot afford to dole out hundreds of thousands for a shawl, they have the trendy option of picking the contemporary shawl, which borrows its ethos from design rather than weave. A contemporary statement shawl brings out style and adds oomph to an outfit in a way that you would normally associate with jewelry, bags and shoes. Shawls designed by Maheen Khan for Nishat are affordable, costing as little as 2500 rupees a piece.
The best way to wear a statement shawl â€“ defined as one that makes a style statement â€“ is to pair it with a simple monotone outfit, black trousers and a top for example.