Qajar painting, Iran depicting shawl use for all garments

Iran Painting Zand Prince wearing Kani weave jacket

Kashmir Shawls become High fashion in Paris

The first shawls that reached England and France were gifts by Mughal emperors. From the 1770’s, shawls were acquired by the officers of the East India Company and traders as Kashmir shawls had caught the imagination of the powerful empires of the Middle East, Russia, England and France. Napolean’s wife, Empress Josephine loved them so much that French agents in Kashmir were ordered to get hundreds of shawls made for her. Paintings by famous French artist Ingres of high society European ladies wearing cherished Kashmiri shawls tells us of the importance placed on Kashmiri shawls in European high fashion. The advanced textile industries of Europe were requisitioned to weave imitations, ‘the Cachemires’ for the fashionable wealthy. The manufacture started in Edinburgh in 1790, Norwich in 1792, Paisley in 1805 and in Paris and Lyon in 1800. Reports sent from India confirmed the vast business potential and European agents were placed in Kashmir to place orders, oversee production and ship shawls overseas. European copies, popularly called ‘Paisley’ after the Scottish weaving town, and French Cachemires began being woven, on Drawloom and Jacquard loom in one piece. They took less time to weave, cost a fraction of the originals and were woven in wool (from fine to coarse), silk and cotton combinations for different strata and clients. Allard and Ventura, French Generals in Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Army, shipped fine shawls to King Louis Phillipe and set up a company in Paris to manufacture copies. The Kashmir shawl was held in such high esteem that during Dogra rule in Kashmir, the annual tribute to Queen Victoria consisted of 25 pounds of pashmina wool and 3 pairs of Kashmir shawls.

Persia patronized the fine shawl-cloth for jackets, skirts, caps, trousers and waistbands and the square and long Kashmir shawls for decorative use as bedspreads, tablecloths and hangings. The khatraz (striped) and small Mughal flower buta varieties which can be seen in the well-known paintings from the Zand and Qajar periods were in great demand in the Persian and Turkish markets.

Painting of European lady wearing 1750's striped kani

Portrait of Empress-Josephine wearing Kashmir shawl dress