Introduction to the Exhibition

Kashmir shawls have long been treasured for their luxurious materials and splendid evocative designs. Their softness, ability to warm the body and brilliant coloration were revered throughout the Near East for centuries. However it was not until the late 18th and early 19th century, circa 1790-1810, the Kashmir shawl reached its widest and most universal appeal in the West. Perhaps it was Napoleon's conquests in Egypt and his alleged gifts of shawls to Josephine that galvanized their notoriety for soon thereafter Kashmir shawls and the distinctive designs they display reached an unbelievable level of popularity and influence.

During this period the Kashmir shawl became the most well-known and important article of female dress and fashion. In England, on the Continent and in America it would have been impossible to attend any society event and not see these shawls on the arms and shoulders of the most important, wealthy and fashionable women. Additionally shawls and shawl cloth would soon become de rigueur decorative accessories in the homes of the fashion conscious where they found use as covers for furniture, pianos and even as wall hangings. Surprisingly the Kashmir shawl was originally manufactured as an article of male dress. This is still the case today but the influence of western fashion tastes has made the Kashmir shawl into a woman's accessory there as well.

During the 19th century the highest quality Kashmir shawls were sold in the best fashion houses in Paris, London and New York for extraordinary sums. A notice to American buyers in Paris, summer 1873(fig.1) lists the price range for these as 500-5000 French francs. At that time each franc was an ounce of sterling silver making the purchase a major financial commitment even for the most wealthy. For those of more limited means even a simple but genuine Kashmir cost the equivalent of almost a year's salary for the average workingman. It was no wonder these weaving were held in such high esteem and regard.

Click figs for larger view