To draw parallels between Denis Colomb’s cashmere wraps and the pashminas popular a few years back is, say the obsessive collectors of the designer’s shawls and scarves, like comparing a Ferrari to a Smart Car. Wrapped in this season’s thin-pleated olive-green or neatly fringed tangerine styles, fans earnestly list what makes Denis Colomb wraps so special: They don’t pill, fray, or leave behind lint or threads. They don’t have messy tassels. They come in a variety of weights, weaves, and seductive original colors. They last forever, remain soft after washing (by hand in all-natural shampoo; dry flat and then press with a cool iron), and fold up into a fistful of nothing.
Greta Van Leuven, who buys the scarves for Barneys New York, believes that Colomb’s success stems from both his palette—which includes an average of 60 colors per collection—and the line’s various weight offerings: The Cloud is supersheer, very finely spun cashmere ($435); the Solid, a slightly heavier cashmere and silk blend ($435–$825). There is also no denying the importance of the wrap factor and Colomb’s shawls do it beautifully, somehow achieving just the right sort of casually draped elegance.
Colomb, 50, grew up in southern France, in Aix-en-Provence, and innately understands color—the yellows, greens, and browns of Van Gogh’s landscapes—in addition to sudden weather changes that make a shawl essential, as when the mistral kicks up without warning from the north. Trained as an industrial designer, he worked in fashion before creating his own line of tiles, rugs, and blankets. Some ten years ago his quest for the softest, most exquisite wool on earth led him to Nepal, and the results made him a favorite with interior designers such as Rose Tarlow and Waldo Fernandez. In 2005 he squared the blankets and rugs down to wearable sizes.
My eyes usually glaze over when conversations turn to goats, but Colomb’s herd lives on the highest Mongolian steppes eight hours from Ulaanbaatar (the higher the altitude, the softer the hair). Their coats are lovingly combed to release the strands, which are hand-spun into thread, dyed to Colomb’s specifications, then handwoven, at five small studios around Nepal.
It’s taken a decade of frequent stays in the country for the designer to establish the kind of rapport he says is necessary to win the trust of the artisans so that they are willing to try new colors, weaves, and weights. Also, during these visits Colomb and his wife, photographer Erica Lennard, were introduced to the children of a small Nepalese orphanage that they continue to support.
One particularly ardent Colomb fan, Keith Richards’s manager Jane Rose, is said to have introduced Colomb’s wares to the Rolling Stones. (Ahh, just imagine Mick Jagger cuddled under his own Denis Colomb blankie.)
Available at Barneys New York (212-826-8900; barneys.com) and Maxfield, Los Angeles (310-274-8800).