The Cashmere Tastemaker

The Cashmere Tastemaker

By Hillary Latos

For Isabelle Cajfinger, life has always been surrounded by style and beauty. Her brother was the designer and creator of the trendsetting brand Paule Ka, and her stylish mother taught her the gift of elegance. Naturally her curiosity as a designer has brought her to every corner of the globe from being raised in France to studying in Los Angeles, living in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and currently in the Netherlands. Her passion for quality, style, individuality and rarity is what defines her discriminating taste, which is translated into her fine and tailor made wool tapestries and rugs as well as cashmere throws and shawls. Her work has made its way into numerous homes and wardrobes of her international clientele.

How did you get started in your business?
I tried to see a connection to all of the jobs I've done and my experiences around the world and its always been bringing quality and bridging cultures. I work with a French partner who also goes to Kashmir frequently. It's a dangerous place to go. She and I design different things and this is perhaps the last generation that embroiders everything by hand as their kids don't want to do it or work on tapestries and rugs.

Where do you find these Kashmir men?
My partner found them as she always gravitated towards tapestries that were made in Kashmir when she was decorating her Parisian apartment. She's also an agricultural engineer and had to visit the region to see if the money allocated to the area by the European Union had been well used. Going there she found a lot of fine rugs in the small shops and she began to adapt their styles to the European taste and also used their craftsmanship.

How do you come up with your designs?
For this collection I was inspired by the canals in Amsterdam. The view is gorgeous from the canal houses. I went to the city hall and I got the architectural renderings of one of the streets, which has a lot of different gables and then I gave it to my partner who brought it to Kashmir and they started to hand embroider the scene – with the reflection of the water in the glass and it took them 2 years to finish. These gentlemen are illiterate so they had to do another one to keep in case I wanted more. I work a lot with expats who want to bring home a piece of Amsterdam so I try to keep production but it takes a long time. My partner also designs a lot and adapts from existing designs. She also looks at a lot of vintage books on Arabic design.

How about the fabric?
The cashmere comes from Kashmir but the linen is from Belgium, which is the best in the world. The quality of their cashmere from Kashmir has the best reputation in the world. There are specific goats that only live in this region, their hair must be harvested in June and the way you cut it and comb the goat's hair is very important.

Who are your core clients?
Decorators and people looking for tailor made products whose homes are already filled with a lot of artwork. At the end we are supporting many of families and communities, so also people who are socially responsible.

What is the turnaround time?
The simpler designs take a couple of months, but I have had some shawls that take 3 years to weave.

How are you growing the business?
I don't know how much I can create and fill orders. I'm also worried that some people will copy and cheapen my designs. I ask myself how I can grow it for people who can appreciate the rarity and can afford it. The prices start from $400 and up for a shawl. I would like to have ladies who host parties to sell the line or I am looking for some distributors.

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