“If you only buy one thing…” says Muzaffar Andrabi from across the polished-concrete and glass showroom. I consider the luxurious excess of undyed, 100 per cent pure cashmere draped around me and laugh at our host’s lapse into stereotype.
Kashmiri shopkeepers have a pushy reputation around South Asia, but Andrabi is no typical merchant. The founder of Kashmir Caravans – a pioneering local touring company – Andrabi is our personal guide around this ancient, snow-capped land of carved houseboats and fabled Mughal gardens. Two days prior, when he picked us up from the airport, I noticed a smart sign hanging above a trio of high, wide windows. “What’s Andraab?” I asked.
“Aside from my guiding company, we have a small cashmere enterprise,” Andrabi admitted as if it were a secret he was intent on hiding. He remained elusive, only adding, “Our family would like to contribute to the revival of Kashmir through crafts.”
My travelling companion and I insist on a visit to the showroom. Upon entering, pride replaces reticence as our host waxes loquacious about each stunning swath.
“We make small changes to traditional Kashmiri styles,” Andrabi says as he unfurls metre upon metre of breathtakingly intricate embroidery, each piece a wearable work of art and petal-soft to the touch.
“Look at the minute patterns,” he encourages us. “Each individual leaf is sewn by a 75-year-old specialist using super-fine silk thread.” I lean in to get a closer look; I decide he’s not exaggerating with the claim that it took “thousands of stitches for this small patch alone”.
Florals, zigzags, peacocks and candy stripes (second picture) – within minutes, the room becomes a veritable kaleidoscope. My companion takes up a buttercup-hued scarf finished with nandi bulls (£215) atop a rainbow of hand-embroidered roses, then swaps these for the Mughal floral pattern in teal-silk thread on the lightest grey cashmere, finally rounding up a pile for purchase.
Meanwhile, I gravitate to the brand’s newest collection of 100 per cent natural-dye shawls (£158), the yellow made from marigolds, the red from pomegranate skins. I admire the intricate workmanship, but finally forsake the pieces in favour of that metre-long, unembellished travel-blanket-cum-über-wrap (£985). It might just be the chicest item I’ve ever worn.