Astrakan. Fur made of Persian lamb. Can also be called astracan. On July 17th 1971, at a fashion show in Rome’s Grand Hotel, Carlo Tivoli, who had suddenly become famous for his red and blue Persian lamb furs, declared it to be “necessary, the non-superfluous fur”. And, to judge only by the fashions of the 1900s, which saw it as something important in every decade, though with many ups and downs and in different ways, one couldn’t say that he was wrong.
Many faces and many names
Many faces and many names were given to this kind of fur. It was easy to work with and so chic. Tivioli said that “it confers class and distinction as nothing else can. Additionally creates a strong sense of success because it can be shaped and is easy to use, and allows almost any kind of processing, just like a textile.”
If it took its French name from Astrakhan, the ancient capital of Turkestan. Turkestan is near present-day Bukhara. It has been called Persian lamb in English, Persianer in German, and persiano in Italian.
Origins of the name Astrakan
But the original name of this lamb (Ovis aries platyura) was karakul. In the Uzbek language it meant black lake or black rose. Additionally, even before defining a breed of sheep, it was a lake in the Pamir region as well as a city in Uzbekistan located south-west of Bukhara. The origin of the karakul was here. Even if it might evoke for us the curled petals of a black rose or the mirror of a lake around which the sheep grazed, it was certainly valued since ancient times.
Astrakan in the past
The people of of Syria and Mesopotamia used it. Additionally karakul caps with feathers and precious stones were part of the wardrobe of the Shah of Persia and of the Russian princes. In the early 1900s, attempts were made to introduce it to lands far away from the place of origin. This meant the nearby regions of Afghanistan, Crimea, and Persia. However, these attempts in the U.S., Canada and Poland failed. Just as all the attempts by Germans in their colonies failed, with the exception of South-West Africa.
Under the burning heat of the southern sun in what is now Namibia, karakul found the ideal conditions of a dry climate and arid environment to grow even more beautiful and became famous under the name of Swakara. It name is from the initials of South West Africa.
Splendid, with its light leather and silk-like moiré look, and fine, extremely fine, with its flat fleece, is the Breitschwanz, the aborted or stillborn or newborn lamb. In a variety of patterns, with plays of light and natural colors (black above all, but also white, grey, and various shades of brown), the astrakhan can be dyed in the most vivid colors and can be made into the most daring creations, either a witty pair of bell-bottom trousers or a romantic frock-coat all lace and open-work.
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