N. Peal: Where timeless elegance meets contemporary style
Style and fashion expert Jake Daniels takes a detailed look at the story behind one of Britain’s most elegant fashion brands.
Founded in 1936, N. Peal quickly became synonymous with exceptional cashmere goods — and has been ever since. After cornering the premium wool market in late 1930’s Britain, founder Nat Peal set his sights on America. He began by making yearly trips to New York and Boston, where he proved that he knew how to put on a good show. He would always set himself up in the most luxurious suite of the finest hotel — a canny move that provided him with the ideal setting in which to impress wealthy clients and entertain members of the press. With his transatlantic reputation on the rise, Nat found his clothes ascending to the utmost heights of fashion royalty; N. Peal garments were soon adorning the backs of some of America’s greatest stars. N. Peal had entered in to that cradle of post-war glamour, Hollywood.
The elegant designs, Nat’s refined ‘Britishness’ (his accent proved immensely popular) and the exceptional quality of his garments helped attracted these illustrious customers. One could say that the N. Peal aesthetic, a synthesis of contemporary style and timeless elegance, had found its parallel in these famous personalities. Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor have all worn N. Peal, and this relationship with icons of the silver screen endures to this day. In 2012, the brand was approached to make a bespoke order of sweaters for Daniel Craig, playing James Bond in Skyfall. The pairing of Bond and N. Peal made complete sense. Both are associated with luxury and products of supreme quality — Bond only ever uses the best, after all. Moreover, Bond’s enduring and much-admired style is classic and refined, but is equally of each film’s time. So too with N. Peal, a brand renowned for timeless styles that is equally committed to producing design-focused cashmere goods for the modern market.
By combining the traditional methods used to harvest its raw product with modern technology, such as state-of-the-art computerised knitting machines, N. Peal remains at the forefront of the cashmere market. Their approach allows them to produce goods that are as luxurious as ever, but in patterns and styles that were once impossible. For the Spring/Summer ’16 collection, N. Peal has extended its Superfine offering, which contains pieces that are light enough for summer wear. The design team took inspiration from the luxurious lifestyle of an English couple holidaying in the Hamptons, focusing on creating transitional pieces that would take one from the city to the beach, then into the evening. Adam Holdsworth, Managing Director of N. Peal, told me: “You think of cashmere as a winter fibre, and yet it is equally appropriate for summer, whether going for lunch, out and about on the boats or relaxing with a drink in the evening to a setting sun. And where better to encapsulate that lifestyle than the Hamptons – relaxed summer luxury at its best.”
Innovation in cashmere goods requires direction from someone who is an expert in the material, and Adam comes from a family with a history rich in textile expertise. His father first travelled to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, when it could only be reached by train. Coming in to contact with nomadic herders and wool traders travelling across the vast steppes, he began to learn where the best cashmere-producing regions were. Forging mutually beneficial relationships with these traders ensured an uninterrupted supply of the finest cashmere wool in the world, while also giving him access to a wealth of knowledge in the form of time-honoured, traditional wool farming techniques that had been handed down over generations of cashmere farmers. As the head of N. Peal, Adam is continuing this cashmere legacy — he too has decades of experience.at every stage of cashmere production. Now, as always, he believes in using nothing other than the finest Mongolian cashmere available.
It is Mongolia’s climate that is responsible for the exceptional quality of its cashmere, which comes from the soft down undercoat that keeps the Capra Hircus goat warm during the winter. In certain regions of Mongolia, the goats have to endure temperatures as low as -20 degrees centigrade, which means they develop an extra fine layer of this fur in order to survive. N. Peal has a particularly exacting selection process, using only the fibres that conform to their own rigorous standards for micron, length and colour. Sadly, this sort of commitment to quality isn’t always industry standard. One large British cashmere retailer is currently embroiled in allegations that it has been using adulterated cashmere in products purporting to be 100% pure. In such cases, pure Mongolian cashmere wool is blended with cheaper wools — such as sheep or yak — during production, before coming to market labelled as a 100% pure cashmere product. This fraudulent trade ultimately undermines the livelihood of Mongolian cashmere traders by lowering the demand for the genuine article and fuelling the drive for reduced high-street prices.
A visit to N. Peal’s flagship store is perhaps the best way to experience the brand’s sense of simultaneity, of heritage reinvented. It sits in Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade, an esteemed runway of luxury boutiques that connects Piccadilly with Burlington Gardens. The shop’s styling is a distinct nod to Art Deco style, a movement that celebrated what was at once luxurious and progressive. Yet it is also distinctly modern, meaning that the store not only captures the spirit of N. Peal’s 1930’s heritage, but is a re-imagining of that classic style, and thus a perfect encapsulation of the N. Peal brand as it is today.