Scialle Fine Shawls

The word Scialle, pronounced SHA-lay, is Italian for shawl.  We import fine, soft shawls in exquisite sophisticated designs from Italy, France, Nepal, Kashmir and China.  Our current production is based predominantly in Italian areas of Lake Como and Biella.  We produce 2 collections annually, of unique prints and jacquards, as well as very lightweight cashmere solids.

Our business began in 1999 with the “pashmina craze” in the US fashion industry. Feather-soft, lightweight, yet incredibly warm pashmina/silk shawls became the must-have fashion accessory for many years.  The perfect Nepali-made pashmina/silk shawl is still a part of our line.  Buoyed by the enthusiasm for shawls in the American market, we also developed contacts in the Kashmir region of India, for cashmere shawls in incredibly diverse patterns and styles, as well as for intricate embroideries.  The incomparable sophistication of design and finishing skills in Italy drew us to Europe, where most of our production is now based.  Delicate washed prints and intricate jacquards executed in couture level design and finishing are the hallmarks of our collections.


Lake Como and the Italian Silk Industry

Situated three miles from the Swiss border in northern Italy’s lake country, Como supplies silken goods to the fashion houses of New York City, Paris and nearby Milan.  Although the backbreaking labor of cultivating the voracious and picky silkworms left Italy after World War II (returning to China, from where it had come centuries earlier) the finishing end of silk production stayed here and expanded.  Como became Italy’s silk capital for two reasons, silk makers say.  First, there was an ample supply of water from the lake and nearby alpine streams to the north.  Second, there was widespread mulberry farming in the Po River Valley just to the south. Mulberry, native to Italy, was often planted as a field and property divider.  This made the region natural for the cultivation of silkworms.  Today in Como and its surrounding foothills, there are 800 companies engaged in the silk and textile trade: manufacturing, printing, dyeing, designing and selling.  And more than 23,000 Comaschi, as Como residents are called, work in the business.

Biella and the Italian Cashmere Trade

There are 1,800 family-owned textile producers nestled in the hills around this northern Italian town.  Together they employ 28,000 people, an average of just 16 each.  In the era of the global marketplace, where even giant corporations must fight to protect their turf against low-cost third world competitors, such small-scale operators might seem quaint anachronisms, doomed to extinction.  Biella’s textile-weaving community is the product of centuries of growth.  The industry grew rapidly in the 19th century after textile machines were imported from Belgium and Britain.  In time, Biella boasted all layers of textile work, from spinning to weaving to finishing.  To supply the textile makers, local textile machine companies sprang up.In the 1960′s.  The local industrialists banded together to finance a training school for textile workers.  In the 1970′s, they started a joint trade fair to promote Biella’s textiles.  And in the 1980′s, local textile-machinery manufacturers formed a consortium to sell their products in China’s newly liberalized market.

Pashmina vs. Cashmere

Experts tell the Federal Trade Commission that there is no pashmina fiber that is separate and distinct from the cashmere fiber.  Some manufacturers use the term pashmina to describe an ultra fine cashmere fiber; others use the term to describe a blend of cashmere and silk.  Scialle carries both cashmere and pashmina.   For us, the term pashmina describes a finer cashmere fiber and it’s absolutely precious.

The Region of Kashmir and Its Shawl Trade

The origins and development of the Kashmir shawl owe much both to Kashmir’s location, cut off as it is by the Pir Panjal range, and to its position at the crossroads of some of Asia’s great trade routes.  Kashmir’s relative geographical isolation ensured that a concentration of skilled workers could be built up and maintained.  Its position on the trade routes from Tibet and from Turkestan gave it virtually exclusive use of the raw materials needed for shawls; and roads west to Afghanistan and Persia and south to India gave it access to markets for its textile products. The classical Kashmir shawl was woven out of pashmina wool, whose main source was the fleece of a Central Asian species of mountain goat, the Capra hircus.  This fleece grows, during the harsh, extremely cold winter, underneath the summer.  Pashmina wool was always imported from Tibet or Chinese Turkestan and was never produced in the Vale of Kashmir itself.  There were two grades of pashmina.  The finest grade was known as ‘asli tus’ and came from wild goats.  The second grade came from the fleece of domesticated goats and it was this grade that always provided the main bulk of the yarn used by Kashmir looms.

Shatoosh and Ring Shawls

Shahtoosh, from which the legendary ‘ring shawl’ is made, is incredibly light, soft and warm.  The astronomical price it commands in the market is due to the scarcity of the raw material.  High in the plateau of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude of above 5,000 m, roam the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops Hodgsoni).  During grazing, a few strands of the downy hair from the throat are shed which are painstakingly collected by the nomads, eventually to supply to the Kashmiri shawl makers as shahtoosh.The yarn is spun either from shahtoosh alone, or mixed with pashmina, bringing down the cost somewhat.  In the case of pure shahtoosh too, there are many qualities – the yarn can be spun so skilfully as to resemble a strand of silk. Not only are shawls, made from such fine yarn, extremely expensive, but can only be loosely woven and are too flimsy for embroidery to be done on them.  Unlike woollen and pashmina shawls, shahtoosh is seldom dyed – that would be rather like dyeing gold!  It’s natural colour is mousy brown, and it is, at the most, sparsely embroidered.  Since the painstaking capture of the shatoosh hairs take so long, poachers have killed off a large part of the population of antelopes to hurry up the process!  The sale and purchase of shahtoosh products is now illegal all over the world, so it is best not to ever purchase one, as it will be seized either when you are leaving India or entering the US.