Cashmere designs are not known for being groundbreaking - this most luxurious of fabrics traditionally has been restricted to scarves, twin sets and frumpy cardigans. But the knit appears to be enjoying a renaissance as a hip fabric du jour. Not only is cashmere more readily available (high street stores from Uniqlo to Marks & Spencer all have their own dedicated ranges) but, increasingly, designers are discovering its versatility and using it to create cutting-edge designs. Hong Kong-born designer Lisa Tsang launched Lisa T Cashmere in 2006, after working as a knitwear designer for Issey Miyake. After 10 years in the business, the Central St Martin's graduate, who had become increasingly fascinated by construction, decided she wanted to push knitwear design into new territory. 'I realised that couture is closely related to wovens so I knew it was possible to manipulate shapes and experiment. I wanted to be able to interpret cashmere in a different way so I sourced super fine quality to heavy gauges and began manipulating fabrics and structures on the body through techniques like draping,' she says. Following several visits to vintage markets in London, Tsang created a collection inspired by the golden age of couture, with 1950s silhouettes infused with Japanese origami techniques. With raw cashmere sourced from the mainland and Mongolia, Tsang opted for yarn spun in Italy to ensure the best quality possible. Her designs were made at two mainland factories. One of her best-selling items is the bolero, which is handmade using 24 pieces of fabric. 'Other cashmere brands tend to create boring designs. Prices are high, so what you are buying should last forever. At the same time, designs should be pushed to a higher level. 'My style is classic with a twist. I like pieces that can be worn in several ways. For next winter we are working on a cowl neck jumper/cape which has a tab to make the sleeves shorter and holes for a belt, so it looks like a dress. Gloves come with a built-in Swarovksi ring on one of the fingers, so you don't need jewellery,' she says. For spring, Tsang is working on a spa line using a blend of cashmere, cotton and linen. It features easy-to-wear dresses, loose trousers and lightweight boleros gathered at the wrists - each with an unusual detail, such as pleating or an abstract print. Stand-outs include a popular pashmina wrap hand-pleated at the back to create a structured shape. It can be draped in several ways. To keep her style fresh, Tsang looks for different variations on cashmere to complement her designs. She prefers cashmere linen and silks for lighter pieces, while glitter cashmere (a combination of cashmere, silk and lurex) is great for a modern look. For winter she accents her pieces with furs such as sable and fox. Tsang's designs are available at high-end stores such as Lane Crawford, but she has also launched an online shop to accommodate her growing range. Knitwear wasn't always close to the heart of Eurasian designer Madeleine Thompson, who started out as a jewellery designer before realising the market was too crowded. She came up with the idea for a cashmere line after talking to a friend. 'We were discussing how there were no cashmere [designs] that were both luxurious and fashionable,' Thompson says. 'We were looking for affordable luxury that was indulgent. This led me to design my first piece - a cashmere beanie - which has now become my signature.' It has been spotted on celebrities such as Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley After chancing upon a knitwear factory owned by a friend, Thompson went on to launch her first collection. It was important to keep prices reasonable so production was kept in the mainland using Italian-spun yarn. 'I was sick of buying knitwear that was constantly clinging onto parts of my body that I didn't want to emphasise. I wanted something flattering. If you have the right cut it won't cling, which is why I work on shape. Once you have a good shape you can adapt it to different gauges and yarns,' she says. Thompson's spring/summer collection is testament to her obsession with shapes. Using cashmere blends such as silk and cotton, items include relaxed button-down dresses, modern grandpa vests, chic A-line minidresses and draped cardigans, which she says are a must-have for summer. The colour palette is muted with tones such as oatmeal, beige and navy. The most expensive piece in the line is around HK$5,000. 'It's not about embellishments - I don't embellish,' she explains. 'Instead, I work very hard on the shapes and draping. Our silhouette is not tight - our signature is the A-line because it's flattering. The look is relaxed but still chic. 'My designs have enough scope that people can mix and match them with their current wardrobe. Versatility is the key for me. It's important that it be functional as it goes hand in hand with the fact that people need to be able to justify the price. I want my pieces to be like friends customers can go back to time and time again. Cashmere is made to last so the styles should too,' she says. Thompson is working on a pre-collection featuring 10 heavier pieces, while her autumn range will consist of about 50 pieces. She is also busy designing capsule collections for Anthropologie stores in Britain. 'I believe a great piece of knitwear can finish off a look. It appeals to all ages and it's about having a shape that can work in all types of fabrics. If it works in silk, why can't you do the same thing with knitwear? I don't believe that it needs to be restricted. Cashmere doesn't necessarily equal stuffy either - it doesn't have to look boring just because it's a luxurious fabric. It's amazing how chic a good piece of knitwear can be.' Tania Mohan started off as a retailer (she owns local fashion boutique Tabla) before deciding to launch her own cashmere line a few years ago. 'We started off stocking many labels but I wanted to do my own line,' Mohan says. 'Our philosophy is about luxury, so I decided what could be more luxurious than cashmere? Cashmere was a logical choice because it wasn't structured. It fits many shapes and I could be creative with the design. I didn't have to worry about structure and the technical side of the garment.' Mohan launched her first cashmere collection in 2007. In keeping with the shop's East-meets-West philosophy - Tabla is known for its handmade Indian embroideries on Western silhouettes - she decided to embellish her cashmere pieces with the same handiwork. 'While the cashmere is done in [mainland] China, every piece is hand-embroidered in India. The silhouette may be casual, but putting the embroidery on it changes everything - it's not your run-of-the-mill separate any more. It's an exquisite item that's not mass produced,' she says. Staples in the collection include modern wearable shapes such as one shoulder tops, V-neck tunics and funky waistcoats. Each item features unique embroidery, which can include anything from threadwork and zardozi (traditional Indian embroidery) to sequins, beads, mother-of-pearl and vintage work, in classic colours such as gold, silver and pewter. She says her best-sellers are the one-shoulder Gypsy top and the bell-sleeved cardigan. Prices range from HK$2,800 to HK$8,000. For summer, Mohan is using a bamboo cashmere mix that is breathable but still drapes on the body. She is continually adding new styles and trying new embroideries. 'It's all about experimenting and finding new ways to work with the fabric while offering the customer something cool and new,' she says. How to care for your cashmere Cashmere is meant to be dry-cleaned after six or seven wears. If you must wash it, use a delicates wash and hand wash in cold water. Do not wring it out - lay it flat and roll it in a towel to remove excess water. Smooth it back to its original shape and place it flat on a towel to dry naturally, away from sunlight. Do not store in airtight containers. Instead use muslin/canvas bags or acid-free tissue paper. Never hang your cashmere as it will stretch and lose shape. Always keep your cashmere folded. Pilling (the little balls on the knitwear) are a natural occurrence on cashmere. Do not remove these by hand - instead use a cashmere comb, fabric shaver, and de-fuzzing or fuzz away device. Shopping list Lisa T Cashmere is available at Lane Crawford and online at www.lisat-cashmere.com . Tabla is available at shop M31, Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2525 6225 or online at www.tabla.hk . Madeleine Thompson is available online at www.my-wardrobe.com and www.matches.com .