News & Runway

Cashmere Queen Margaret O’Leary Talks Expansion, Pilling and Her Favorite Fall Pieces


When based in the tundra (or, you know, Chicago and Buffalo, N.Y.), it can be difficult to dress for the elements and still look stylish. The solution for nearly any temperature at any time is, of course, cashmere and in my rotating closet, it’s these knitwear pieces that have endured many climates and many more apartments. It’s been a (sad) dream of mine to own the perfect cashmere sweater in every color.

It has been a much more appropriate dream of many designers to jet-set between stores on both the East and West Coasts, and now designer Margaret O’Leary can check that off her list. O’Leary, whose Irish family (she is one of 12) produced its own knits while she was growing up, started her own line in San Francisco and recently opened her first New York City store on Mott Street.

In the name of cashmere conquering, I caught up with the designer to discover what to buy, when to buy it and how to make it last.

Julie Bensman: Congrats on the new NYC store! How will the space on Mott Street reflect the brand’s East Coast customer?

Margaret O’Leary: I pride myself in bringing the best of the San Francisco lifestyle to every city we encounter. I have never met a New Yorker who didn’t like a little visit to San Francisco, which is what I hope to deliver on Mott Street (minus the fog). My work has found its way into the hearts and wardrobes of many New Yorkers, so it’s exciting to bring the store to people who have already embraced my collections.

Margaret_O_LearyJB: When investing in new knitwear for fall, which three pieces must every woman own?

MO: My favorite pieces are those I believe will stand the test of time. This fall, I am already living in the St. Moritz (a luxurious cashmere wrap hoodie), the Fringe Wrap (it goes where I go) and the Connemara Coat (my SF evening coat).

JB: How can one tell the difference between good cashmere and great cashmere?

MO: Great question, because it’s NOT always about price! First, begin by examining the knit structure and the “hand” of the piece. I only source from the soft underbelly of the best and youngest goats — and the quality shows. The second test is how the piece wears over time. While it is true that fine cashmere will pill (and the looser the knit, the faster it will pill), better quality pieces withstand normal wear and tear.

JB: What are some tips for making expensive knitwear investments last a lifetime?

MO: Don’t hang your cashmere pieces as they will stretch and lose their shape. Don’t dry clean too often, either (I wash mine inside out on gentle cycle and dry flat). And if you ever develop a little pilling, bring the piece to any Margaret O’Leary store and we will de-pill it with our custom de-pilling service.

JB: When you’re visiting New York, where are your favorite places to eat, stay and shop?

MO: I have so many favorites! I tend to find myself returning to ABC Kitchen time and time again.  For Italian, Alimentari & Vineria on Great Jones Street is my go-to and for a midnight treat, I visit Nougatine at Jean-Georges for the foie gras. My family and I stay at the Mercer, which has become our home away from San Francisco!

JB: What’s the last thing you googled?

MO: “Hotels in Paris for Fashion Week.”