Originating in the mountains of Tibet, mohair is literally a textile of biblical proportions. Moses mentions pure white mohair as a covering of the tabernacle around 1500 B.C., making it one of the oldest fibers still in use today. Characterized by its long, shaggy locks that closely resemble the finished textile, the fiber comes from the fleece of the Angora goat. During their trade from Asia, goats were introduced to the Ankara region of Austria in the sixteenth century, giving birth to the name “Angora”. They were bred and exported around Europe for centuries until they reached the United States in 1849. Now, over 170 years later, the state of Texas is the leading mohair producer in the world, producing an astonishing 75,000 pounds of the raw textile per year. Due to the increased global demand of the material, prices have more than doubled in value over the past decade.
Twice a year, once in spring and again in fall, the goats are shorn with clippers to remove their coats. This unprocessed fleece is then washed and rinsed, extracting pure lanolin which is then used for skincare and cosmetic products. The washed mohair is dyed according to the manufacturer’s desire and ‘carded’, a process in which the fibers are passed through wire rollers that straighten and ensure them to be laid in the same direction. The carded fibers are then spun into single strands of yarn, woven into fabric, inspected for defects and often brushed to give the fabric the uniform fuzzy texture that we know and love.
In the early 90s, among the grit and grime of grunge-mania, mohair flourished. Often found at thrift stores, the mohair sweaters of the time were thrashed, torn and stained. Wearers simply didn’t care about how their clothes looked, and onlookers adored it. Possibly the most recognizable mohair garment in history, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s green cardigan from his MTV Unplugged performance, is rather ordinary at first glance. Its missing button, burn holes and a stain from God-knows-what are the embodiment of Cobain’s allure. A true investment in music history, the piece sold at auction for $137,500 in 2015, and later again in 2019 for $334,400, further elevating both the late guitarist and his soiled cardigan.
Before you could say 'nevermind', fashion houses began churning out their own iterations of the mohair sweater. Early Japanese streetwear label Number (N)ine paid true homage to the late rockstar with the A/W 2003 'Touch Me I'm Sick' collection of striped knits, a style influenced by designer Takahiro Miyashita's fascination with American punk culture. Junya Watanabe’s angsty iterations were a fan favorite, including the oversized, barely-there camo look from his A/W 2006 runway show that were a nightmarish nod to Cobain’s wardrobe. Later on, Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent A/W 2013 range was mohair-obsessed, complete with cardigans in a melange of edgy patterns.
While many designers’ takes on the mohair sweater are dark, distressed and dystopian, recent offerings by Our Legacy have taken a more modest interpretation. The Swedish brand allows the natural texture of the cloth speak for itself through a neutral palette defined by minimalist silhouettes. In another apparel output guided by Francesco Risso, creative director of Marni, whimsical “fuzzy-wuzzy” mohair knits captivate street style fans and celebrities alike, giving classic argyles and stripes an eclectic new life in vivid color combinations. The Italian label's playfully executed knits evoke the epitome of casual luxury, further expressed through their relaxed feel. With mohair as the medium, this label blends pieces seamlessly with sartorial cues and forward-thinking footwear, solidifying their status as a quirky outsider of the fashion world.
Text by Jackson Crea