Few luxury products are as immediately desirable as cashmere. Gold shimmers but its value is mostly culturally constructed. Diamonds and other gems naturally appear rough and unremarkable, but cashmere wool is inherently attractive.
The founder of the cashmere wool industry is traditionally thought to be a 15th-century ruler of Kashmir (which now lies between northern India, Pakistan and China) and its significance as a coveted status symbol can be found in Mughal literature.
Cashmere has changed little over the centuries. It remains a cherished high-end material which many global designers employ in their most creative endeavours. In Germany, cashmere is best associated with the luxury label Allude.
Andrea Karg, Allude’s founder and designer, is an uncommon master of cashmere. Whereas many designers remain bound to the classic conventions of cashmere as a material for light sweaters, graceful cardigans and decorative shawls, Karg explores the fabric’s full potential.
‘Cashmere is the finest and most luxurious material in the world,’ she says. ‘There are almost unlimited ways to work with it, especially if you do knitwear. It is also a great material to dye, as colours always come out looking fantastic.’
Throughout her collections Karg has used radiant pure hues including electric pink, lemon yellow, vermilion, lime, emerald and royal blue. She contrasts these resplendent shades with chic neutrals such as sand, ivory, nut and cinnamon. Karg artfully juxtaposes these potent colours in thick stripes, blocks of solid pigment or Matisse-like patterns. She believes that her use of colour is key to Allude’s appeal. ‘Sexy shapes and subtle colours’ attract women to Allude, according to Karg. Long-term followers are known as Alludies.
Cashmere is Karg’s signature material and its inherent charm is part of Allude’s success, but Karg is not exclusively tied to its history or its ready reference points. ‘Creativity is a non-stop process,’ she explains. ‘Inspiration might come from everywhere at anytime. To retain a successful brand identity, over a long time, one needs to reinvent themselves and the collection without losing the brand’s identity and signature.’
Allude also produces beautiful silk, linen, cotton and viscose knits. The weight and depth of these weaves varies by season but Allude is best known as a brand with bounce.
‘My collection has a certain structure each season which allows the Alludies to select from all-time basics to key fashion-show items.’
Karg presents Allude’s prêt-à-porter collections during Berlin Fashion Week and her garments are arresting on the catwalk. Her creations have daring cuts and bold colours with distinctive, sensual sex appeal. Allude includes fitted miniskirt, agile oversized sweaters, hot pants, wrap dresses and porous ponchos made from flexible nets. Karg’s designs graciously challenge conservative associations with knitwear, especially cashmere’s genteel reputation.
According to Kori Ellis, from the influential fashion blog The Gloss, ‘Although you might not be hanging out by the pool with a cashmere sweater on top of your bikini, the pieces are very wearable if you mix and match them with something else. Some of the fabric is very thin, even sheer, so it can work its way into your spring wardrobe.’
Allude is a rare brand which blends an office-ready professionalism with a high-fashion aesthetic. Karg has an unconventional background: after gaining a degree in law, she became a sought-after fashion model. Karg’s attachment to cashmere and her sense of style developed during this time. She launched Allude in 1993 in Munich, where the brand remains. Karg explains that there are distinctive German characteristics in the label but stresses that ‘its heart has an international beat’.
Karg is critical of some of the superficial aspects of fashion and strives to endorse deeper values with her designs and personal approach. ‘True beauty comes from within. You have to live with what you are and be yourself. In today’s fashion business, beauty is often related to youth and ideas of physical perfection but both will go, sooner or later. The fashion industry sells dreams and should be aware of what is truly precious.’
As a designer who weaves soft fabric into supple garments, Karg’s belief in firm values is an irrefutable mark of true, timeless refinement.