Recently I won the eBay bidding for a vintage shawl by French couturier Balmain. Not the revived, sexed-up version of the brand now under the helm of Christopher Decarnin--this shawl is of indeterminate vintage but surely dates from the period when Balmain was the label du choix of aging European royalty and old-school Hollywood icons, women who liked their interfacings sturdy and hem length well south of the kneecap. No matter. It's workmanship I'm after, and this onetime rival to Dior and Balenciaga had that in abundance.
The eBay bidding never got over $10, largely, I think, because the seller described the fabric as "terry-like". Nobody's going to break the bank on a beach towel. But I went ahead because the scans looked great: the label dead-authentic and the weave design unusual and interesting.
I thought the moment of truth would be unwrapping the shipping packaging, but even pulling the shawl out, I couldn't pinpoint exactly what sort of fabric it was. There was no contents label attached. It looked good and felt good, like wool, but its more lowly synthetic cousin, acrylic, does a very good imitation. As much as I've trained my hand to find great fabric blind, it can't always tell the difference.
There was only one thing to do. Something I've wanted an excuse to do for a very long while. Set the thing on fire. Actually just a strand, in a burn test. If the fiber were wool, it would singe. If it were acrylic, it would melt.
Who says there's no mad science in the fashion biz? Burn it I did. And the resulting wisp of smoke smelled . . . like a bad home perm. It was natural hair for sure. Score!
And now I'll treat that shawl with nothing but kindness, for it will surely keep me quite warm during this weekend's snowstorm.