Since its discovery, the fleece of Ural goats has been world renowned as one of the finest natural fibers in existence. Famous fashion houses like Chanel and Prada include pieces made from this fine Orenburg goat’s hair in their collections. What makes this fiber so special?
Surprisingly, it resembles human hair but is much stronger and more delicate. A shawl in the lacy, spider web style weighs only 200 grams. The length of the thread is also important – a long thread combined with silk fiber gives the shawl an incredible strength even after ten years of frequent use. It has other exceptional qualities as well. The woven article is extremely soft, warm and elastic. It doesn’t pill and provides good insulation against the cold. The goat’s hair is naturally grey or ivory and should not be dyed. The dye itself, even without chemical additives makes the goat’s hair less shiny and more fragile. Crafts persons who use the best quality goat’s hair never dye their shawls.
Harvesting the fine goat’s hair is a painstaking task: it takes at least three years of difficult work to end up with 300 to 1000 grams of goat’s hair from just one animal. The fleece is combed only once a year in the spring. This assiduous task provides the one kilometre of thread necessary to make one item of clothing.
Once it is harvested, the goat’s hair is spun with silk fibres which make it stronger and softer to the touch. Then the work of art is created. Knitting a shawl will take a well trained artisan around 195 hours to complete in the lacy spider web style. The traditional, thick shawl will take about 257 hours. Each shawl created by a skilled craftsperson is unique, for the designs are never repeated in exactly the same way.
This uniqueness of material and production results in a very high quality product that justifies a high price tag. As soon as you feel the material you realize that the cost is very reasonable. By investing in an authentic shawl or scarf you are investing in a sure value: you will enjoy your piece for many years because it is so well made.
According to some legends, the first Russian colonists who migrated to the Ural Mountains in the 15th century were impressed with the amazing endurance of the elite Cossack soldiers in the coldest of winters. The secret was in their uniforms that were both warm and light, thanks to the knitted linings made from the down of the Ural goats.
Knitting the beautiful shawls of the Ural goats’ down began in Russia in the 17th century, thanks to the careful and painstaking work of the Cossacks’ wives who were stationed in the Urals in the end of the 15th century. These shawls are also sometimes called Russian pashminas, a name that came from the Mongols and refers to the fine down that grows on goats that live at high altitudes with very low temperatures.
Orenburg shawls became popular in Russia in 1770 thanks to Alyona Denisyevna Rychkova, a well known Russian historian. She fell under the charm of these beautiful shawls while she was traveling through the Ural region. When she returned to Saint Petersburg, she started a fashion amongst the Russian aristocrats who loved the delicate craftsmanship of the shawls.
Later, all of Western Europe, particularly France, fell in love with the Orenburg shawls. Some entrepreneurs even imported their own herds of Ural goats to France in order to harvest the valuable goat’s hair. In 1818, a French professor brought a herd of Orenburg goats to Marseille. Unfortunately, the milder climate, whether in France, Great Britain or the Americas, causes their down to become coarser after a few years with disappointing results.
In 1857, the Orenburg shawls were awarded the International Grand Prize of the Paris World’s fair.
Even today, experts of the finest fabrics are charmed by the Orenburg shawls. Chanel regularly includes pieces in their collections that are knit from the fine goat’s hair of Orenburg.