“Why wouldn’t you want to be surrounded by cashmere on a flight?” says the British designer Olivia von Halle, recounting the moment she came up with the idea for her cosy cashmere tracksuit. “I was travelling constantly for work, and dreamed of wearing something that was luxurious enough to make the flight experience seem indulgent, but cool enough to be seen out in.”
Two years in the making, her jogging bottoms and sweatshirt sets – with an oversized cut, cuffed seams and contrast stripes down each side – are crafted from a double-faced cashmere blended with silk. “The fabric was impossible to resist, as the inside is as soft as the outside; it feels buttery against your skin. It’s heaven,” she says. “I can’t think of a better way to travel.”
For von Halle, who found her niche selling silk sleepwear in 2011, a cashmere two-piece is the first-class equivalent of a pair of pyjamas. Her Missy tracksuit has proved so popular, she’s spent the past 18 months developing a new version, Gia, which has a more streamlined silhouette.
She’s one of a number of designers who have found demand for cabin cashmere at an all-time high. And brands, from Khaite to Le Kasha and Brunello Cucinelli, are all jumping on board. Dutch label Extreme Cashmere sells dressing-gown cardigans, floor-length sweater dresses and baggy knitted trousers in neutral navy, ecru and khaki. Khaite offers snuggly woollen jackets, while Raey has slouchy grandad cardigans, tracksuit bottoms and belted cardi-coats. Loro Piana – purveyor of the world’s finest Mongolian cashmere – is this season offering three-piece tailored coordinates in a rich camel shade that would surely survive even a 24-hour flight to Australia without dishevelment.
But it’s not just brands that specialise in wool that are getting in on the in-flight action. Resortwear label Lemlem, which is helmed by model Liya Kebede and usually sells embroidered kaftans in gauzy cottons, has created a sustainable travel collection in partnership with The Woolmark Company. Released this month, it features beachy-looking kimono cardigans and tracksuit trousers trimmed with tassels. Australian ready-to-wear label Albus Lumen offers neck pillows, oversized scarves and eye masks, while Ven Store has cashmere tracksuits and matching travel socks.
Swaddling oneself in layers of cashmere makes for the ultimate in-flight survival kit. “We’ve seen double-digit growth in our lifestyle sales, with customers buying cashmere sets, shawls, socks and eye masks,” says Chelsea Power, senior buyer at MatchesFashion. The site’s bestselling pieces include “tracksuits from Allude, long cardigans and dresses from Extreme Cashmere and very elevated wardrobing from The Row. For our customers, it’s about making life easier. No one wants to go on a long-haul flight in stiff denim.”
Anna Singh, co-founder of British knit label Chinti & Parker, says, “Once you start flying wearing cashmere, it’s difficult to stop.” The brand introduced an Essentials collection of head-to-toe cashmere looks, designed for travel, a year ago. “If you are spending an increasing amount of time travelling by plane, you have to make sure you’re as comfortable as can be. It’s the difference between stepping off a flight and feeling great, or not.”
Ease of wear is key to this flourishing flightwear category. Forget all-in-ones; this market is instead dominated by slouchy separates that are designed to be layered. “Before I developed the Missy, I would dread that moment you had to squeeze into the aeroplane bathroom to change into something you could actually relax in when flying long haul,” says von Halle.
Head-to-toe cashmeres, especially in muted, tonal hues, are a sophisticated take on classic leisurewear. “We wanted to create an alternative to the traditional athletic look,” says Esteban Saba, co-founder of New York label Håndværk, of his knitted tracksuits in charcoal, light grey, black and khaki. “Casual and elevated are not at odds.” Little details are noted also: cabin-focused garments are stripped of hard fastenings, as Saba says his hoodies far outsell his zip-up jackets. Le Kasha’s creative director Mali Marciano engineers her designs to maximise the snug factor. “It makes you feel like you’re wearing a very soft cloud,” she says.
Based in Paris, Le Kasha was one of the earliest suppliers of high-end cashmeres. Established by Marciano’s family in 1918, the brand supplied its goat-hair textiles to Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin; Chanel’s famed two-piece suit was crafted from Le Kasha’s wools. In 2016, Marciano took up the mantle and revived the house, this year opening the Boutique de Voyage in Paris, selling wares aimed at frequent flyers. “Today’s women have to jump from a plane to a business lunch or dinner without getting changed. I’m trying to offer an adaptable wardrobe for that lifestyle,” she says of her pullover cashmere capes, kimono dresses and bodysuits.
Marciano says that, despite the difficulty in washing it, cashmere is an ideal material for flightwear. “It breathes,” she explains. “You never feel too hot in cashmere, as it adapts to your body heat. During the flight, the temperature fluctuates a lot. Pieces like cardigans give you the option to change easily.” To prevent pilling and the fabrics stretching, however, many of these pieces are a cashmere blend to maintain structure: von Halle mixes hers with silk, whereas Håndværk blends cashmere with alpaca wool, and Alex Gore Browne uses merino, as it’s more hardwearing across the knees.
Marciano, however, uses only pure cashmere. “It’s the most noble of fabrics, and there is no better feeling on the skin. It’s my favourite travel companion.”