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European and Euro-American Consumption of Kashmiri Shawls

European and Euro-American Consumption of Kashmiri Shawls

“Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires 1500 – 2000 AD

PART – 2

(European and Euro-American Consuption of Kashmiri Shawls is a part of the article regarding the great history of genuine Kashmir Pashmina Shawls (Today’s Geographical Indication labeled (GI) Kashmir Pashmina) was found luckily after a deep research from ‘Journal of World history” online. This article provides a great research by Michelle Maskiell regarding this most luxurious product of fashion industry which has gone through the test of times. I am directly copying and pasting without any editing on this website for general information of Kashmir Pashmina customers and lovers who want to know more about the genuine Kashmir Pashmina (GI Kashmir Pashmina). This article has been posted in parts for the ease of readers.

(Michelle Maskiell, “Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires, 1500-2000,” Journal of World History 13, no. 1 (Spring 1992), 27–65.)

Changing European patterns of consumption for Kashmiri shawls over the course of the nineteenth century developed contrapuntally with Western social scientific and cultural theories concerning European industrial commodities and European labor. The representations of Kashmiri shawls in Europe and the United States cannot be understood independently of the representations of European-made imitations. Both the shawls and the artisans who made them were deployed as mirrors and foils for European products and workers.

Western European consumption began with the eighteenth-century importation of Kashmiri shawls with the characteristic teardrop-with-a-bent-tip design, which also appeared in similar Iranian (Persian) textiles. 14 It became known as the “paisley” in the United States and Canada, and as the “pine,” the “cone,” and the “palme” or “palmette” [End Page 35] in western Europe. A Kashmiri shawl with the design woven on the loom is known as the kani, the kanikar, the “twill tapestry,” or the “brocade weaving” shawl (Keller 1996, 803; Reilly 1996, 10–11; for less Eurocentric views, see Ahad 1987; Chandra 1989; Chattopadhyay 1995). 15

British imperial rule in India, from its modest seventeenth-century coastal beginnings to its most dramatic early twentieth-century manifestations throughout the Subcontinent, was inextricably bound up with the international textile trade. The British East India Company (hereafter BEIC) monopolized the maritime transportation of Kashmiri shawls to Europe in the eighteenth century. 16 The BEIC adopted a policy of supplying shawls similar to what they had already established for the seventeenth-century importation of Indian handloomed cloth called “chintz” (painted or hand printed cotton). 17 The increased demand for nonwool cloth inspired the most famous examples of British manufacturers’ import substitutions: spinning cotton thread and weaving cotton cloth by machine. With the help of early eighteenth-century legal restrictions on the importation of Indian cotton textiles into England and the copying of Indian cloth-dying technology, British manufacturers invested some of the capital gained from their colonies to produce textiles that substituted for imported Indian cottons. [End Page 36] The long list of industrial innovations in yarn-spinning technology, including the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and the water-powered spinning mill–in combination with the roller printing machine, steam engines, and power looms–all enabled British manufacturers to supply their home market and to export machine-spun cotton yarn and machine-loomed cotton cloth to their colonies. When the British “cotton craze” for Indian printed hand-woven cottons waned, there was a wide range of British textiles.

available which manufacturers had developed specifically for the home market. The BEIC had bowed to the demands of British manufacturers for economic protection while they developed these import substitutions for Indian textiles throughout this period, half a century before Kashmiri shawls first appeared around the shoulders of women in London (Schoeser and Rufey 1989, 29–30; Lyons 1996, 173; Mukherji 1983).

In eighteenth-century Great Britain, BEIC employees and other travelers brought home Kashmiri shawls as souvenirs and gifts for their relatives and friends. The social practices of women and men who had lived in India showed Britons how to wear the shawls (Irwin 1955, 19; 1973, 32; Shrimpton 1992, 67). Eurocentric accounts often have assumed that Kashmiri shawls only became fashionable through being displayed in Europe, claiming that fashion is a purely Western phenomenon. 18 Textile historians fixed a starting date for Kashmiri shawl fashion which reflected when English women wore these shawls in England, even though English women (and men) had worn such shawls earlier in India. The British who lived in India might adapt indigenous fabrics to European clothing styles, but fashion supposedly moved solely from England to India and never the reverse. One of the earliest mentions of an Englishwoman wearing a Kashmiri shawl in England occurred in a 1767 letter; consequently, Kashmiri shawl fashion was dated to the following decade (Irwin 1973, 32).

As in India and Iran, the desirability of Kashmiri shawls in Britain rested on people incorporating them into their “relations of consumption” (Howes 1996, 2). These gendered relations in the nineteenth century included conceptualizations of clothing fashion, the distribution [End Page 37] of financial resources for consumption, various gift-giving occasions, inheritance practices, and the like. The primary purchasers of Kashmiri shawls and shawl cloth in eighteenth-century Britain were probably men, since they most frequently controlled finances within affluent families that could afford Kashmiri shawls (Fine and Leopold 1990, 178). Many wealthy late-eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century men “wore robes and vests of exotic oriental cloth as well as shawls for lounging, sport and travel” (Rudzki 1986, n.p. [25–26]). Davidoff and Hall mention no Kashmiri shawls among the clothing worn by middle-class Birmingham English women in the late eighteenth century, but a young manufacturer took his first trip to London in a new “cashmere” waistcoat in the 1780s (1987, 410).

In nineteenth-century English writing, despite the evidence of contrary sartorial practices, Kashmiri shawls became coded as women’s luxuries. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1849–50 novel, North and South, portrayed “Indian shawls and scarfs” as highly desired items for the English bourgeois trousseau (Gaskell 1986, 37; 299). Margaret, the heroine, modeled a Kashmiri shawl from her cousin’s trousseau early in the novel; Gaskell used the incident to extol the “spicy Eastern smell,” the “soft feel” and the “brilliant color” of the shawl. Margaret’s tall figure “set off the long beautiful folds of the gorgeous shawl,” and, looking in a mirror, she smiled at her familiar features in the “unusual garb of a princess” (39). Gaskell later described Margaret’s attire when she met her future husband as completed by “a large Indian shawl which hung about her in heavy folds and which she wore as an empress wears her drapery” (99). Thus, for one popular nineteenth-century English novelist, Kashmiri shawls evoked both fairytale status and marriage for bourgeois women.

But Kashmiri shawls could mean more to individual women than luxurious wraps. As nineteenth-century British law and custom greatly limited women’s inheritance rights to real property, the ownership of Kashmiri shawls and other clothing items of exchange value could be of obvious importance. Nupur Chaudhuri observed that “aesthetic value aside, the Kashmir shawl was also considered to be an item of tangible wealth… [which was] regarded as a valued inheritance” (1992, 234). Even used shawls had considerable exchange value; Chaudhuri traced the largely noncash market for Kashmiri shawls through private letters, newspapers’ “exchange columns,” and “advertisements in women’s periodical literature” (232-33, 235). London’s Regent Street, the epicenter of wealthy women’s public consumption practices, catered to individual women’s differing economic situations [End Page 38] through the India and British Shawl warehouse which advertised that they cleaned, exchanged, or purchased customers’ own shawls, as well as selling new ones (Adburgham 1989, 99; see also, Vickery 1993).

Napoleon and his officers brought Kashmiri shawls back from the 1798–1801 French Egyptian campaign, and Empress Josephine (1804–1809) started the fashion of wearing them in Paris. French consumers obtained shawls by way of the famous Russian fair at Nizhnii Novgorod, as well as from resident agents in Istanbul and Moscow. Kashmiri shawls also arrived in France from Alexandria and Smyrna via Marseilles (Fitzpatrick 1990; Ames, 130). The Kashmiri shawl was a symbol of French bourgeois status from the Restoration (1815–8) through the Second Empire (1852–70). Middle-class French women “actively participated in the formation of the bourgeoisie as a class with tastes distinctive from aristocrats and workers,” and they did so primarily through spending their husbands’ incomes to obtain appropriate clothing and household furnishings. Kashmiri shawls and other goods used as class markers satisfied nineteenth-century bourgeois French taste because “they looked rich,” had “extensive ornamentation, artistic qualities,” and were made of “expensive raw materials” (Walton 1992, 53, 100, 225; Levi-Strauss 1988, 16-19; Auslander 1996 a). In 1866 Paris, the Grands Magasins du Louvre, “where elegant Parisians shopped,” sold “Indian cashmeres for up to 3,500 francs ‘and more’“ (Keller, 810, #19).

Kashmiri shawls were favorite nineteenth-century wedding gifts in France as well as in Britain. Napoleon’s wedding gifts to Marie-Louise, his second wife, included seventeen Kashmiri shawls, and a painting of the guests at their 1810 wedding showed many of the women with “a cashmere shawl carefully folded over one arm” (Levi-Strauss 1988, 19). Wealthy Frenchmen often presented a “fine cashmere shawl… [as] part of la corbeille, the groom’s gifts to his bride; and this item was frequently the most valuable among the women’s clothing in the inventories [of household possessions]” (Walton, 99). Unmarried nineteenth-century French women, no matter how wealthy, were discouraged from wearing Kashmiri shawls, for to do so would “lead people to believe that they are possessed of an unbridled love of luxury and deprive themselves of the pleasure of receiving such finery from a husband” (1863 deportment manual cited by Perrot 1994, 100).

Euro-American women on the northeastern coast of the United States started to wear Kashmiri shawls about the same time that they became fashionable in Britain. When trade with the European empires was curtailed for the new country in the aftermath of the Revolutionary [End Page 39] War, American ships sought out new markets in Asia. Kashmiri shawls reached the United States in the 1780s and 1790s when ship captains bound for China and Turkey acquired them in various ports of call (Dow 1921, 114). Some still unknown but no doubt changing mixture of Iranian, Kashmiri, north Indian, and western European-made shawls, as well as shawls from China, were available in U.S. eastern cities during the first half of the nineteenth century (Leavitt 1972, 55; Harrington 1970, 4546; Bean 1990).

Shawl fashion in the United States, as characterized in popular nineteenth- century women’s magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, published in Philadelphia, and Harper’s Bazaar, published in New York City, followed western European fashion trends. French shawls with imitation Kashmiri  designs became widely available in the 1840s, and a decade later small-town stores commonly stocked embroidered shawls from “Thibet,” although it is impossible to know if this geographical designation referred to shawls from Kashmir or north India. An American advertisement in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1860 listed the types and prices of Indian shawls obtained from the East India company in London. These ranged from the least expensive, a “Delhi scarf for the shoulders” at $15, to square shawls, “ladylike and desirable” from $50 to $250, and reached the most expensive, “long shawls” costing as much as $1200. Shawls served as “attractive holiday presents” throughout the 1860s, and “India shawls were still considered wise purchases” in 1870. They continued thereafter to be advertised at all price ranges, with a new emphasis on the bottom end, and “imitation shawls were starting to eclipse the genuine Indian” in these advertisements by the end of the 1870s. Good quality shawls were then being tailored into “fitted jackets” or “men’s dressing gowns,” as well as used for “carriage robes” and “country clothes” (Harrington, 50–56, 71–79).

When the Great Exhibition celebrating British industrial productivity and imperial grandeur opened at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851, Kashmiri shawls and other colonial Indian “art-wares” received prominent display. Industrial exhibitions and world’s fairs in the second half of the nineteenth century intensified the interpenetration of the European and the Indo-Iranian trading networks, driven by the ever greater political and economic power of the imperial states to appropriate designs and technologies from their colonies and to facilitate their imitation by home manufacturers. Britain’s national policies became ever more closely connected to its imperial role in India during the second half of the nineteenth century, and Indian handicrafts as a whole had their most extensive display and consumption within Britain (MacKenzie 1995; Grewal 1996, 125-27 for “merchandising [End Page 40] the Orient”; for parallel trends and Iranian handicrafts, especially carpets, see Helfgott 1994).

In 1881, advertising copy for Liberty and Company (a British firm) transferred Kashmiri shawls from the dust bin of unfashionable clothing to this category of the antique. Its catalog of that year advertised “Indian embroidered table covers” and “Indian cashmere curtains… made like the old Indian shawls and embroidered all over.” The “Antique Embroideries” from India available at Liberty’s were “adjuncts of Eastern luxury and pageantry [and] priceless for adaptation in interior decorations.” The merchandising of the textiles stressed that they were “impossible to reproduce” and would soon be unavailable, since “[t]he whole East [was] being ransacked for [them].” The same Kashmiri shawls, or very similar ones, could have been sold at Liberty’s as fashionable clothing in 1865 or as home furnishings in the 1880s. This was not merely because of ineffective nineteenth-century methods of dating textiles. All Kashmiri shawls carried “romantic associations with the ‘mysterious and unchanging East,’“ whatever nineteenth-century year they were removed from the loom (Irwin 1955, 14).

From the 1880s until World War I, wealthy European and Euro-American women learned to drape their Kashmiri shawls over their pianos instead of their own shoulders. This high period of “Indian style” for British home decoration was part of late-Victorian eclecticism. Even as the manufacturers of European machine-made textiles tried to improve their designs, the British design reform, the Aesthetic, and the Arts and Crafts movements all emphasized in one way or another differentiating between the machine-made and the hand-crafted. By the late nineteenth century, the overall influence of these movements had transformed the political economy of taste in Britain and the United States. Using Kashmiri shawls as curtains or furniture covers attracted consumers whose tastes had been educated to appreciate the aesthetic superiority of artisan-made textiles in contrast to the aesthetic inferiority of the machine-made (Greenhalgh 1997, 105). It was no coincidence that the hand embroidery on Kashmiri shawls seemed to have made them desirable for interior decoration at the same historical moment that machine-stitched embroidery replaced hand embroidery in British textile manufacturing (Parker 1989, 178).

Thus, Kashmiri shawls could be represented as quite different types of commodities, from wraps that made women look like princesses to draperies for the piano, depending upon the fashion of the moment. In the early nineteenth century, representations of Kashmiri shawls were independent of their mode of production because European imitative shawls were also hand-woven. Shawls from Kashmir were then valued for their lightweight warmth, their attractive exoticism, and the exceptional sensual pleasures of wearing them. European mass-produced textiles were never able to compete successfully with Kashmiri shawls as far as the sensual characteristics of the fabric were concerned, and they were far too expensive for all but the very well off. European-made shawls, however, did come to offer design distinction through the appropriation and modification of Kashmiri designs to suit European and Euro-American tastes, and this distinction was available at middle-range and inexpensive prices. Asian commodities like Kashmiri shawls became key objects for late-nineteenth-century aesthetic pronouncements by “taste professionals” who then preferred hand-crafted [End Page 42] textiles and other handicrafts in contrast to machine-made products of all kinds (see Auslander 1996 a for “taste professionals” in France and Greenhalgh 1997). Tracing the European development of an aesthetic taste for the hand-crafted instead of the machine-made requires separate treatment and can only be suggested here.

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…..To be continued in part 3…

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