Hollywood has long been a source of creative inspiration, the public regarding film stars of past and present as beacons of culture. One early summer evening in June, I visited cashmere specialist N.Peal in London’s Burlington Arcade to join two people who have been especially moved by Hollywood in their own achievements, and who discussed how the stars have influenced them and their contributions to their contemporary.
Glass of bubbly in hand, I was early to the N.Peal Spring/Summer 2016 launch, giving me the change to peruse the collection before mingling with other guests and hearing from our speakers. It’s not often one is moved by a summer range composed entirely of cashmere, but the featherweight superfine fabrics were as light and airy as any cotton, yet far more luxurious. This range is, we’re told, inspired by a summer in the Hamptons, and having spent time visiting friends in Water Mill, NY, I instantly recognised the nautical stripes, bold vermillion reds and cool cobalt blues, bringing me back to lazy days of American summertime.
Founded in 1936, Nat Peal quickly became synonymous with exceptional cashmere goods — and has been ever since. After cornering the UK’s premium wool market in the late 1930’s, Nat set his sights on America. He began by making yearly trips to New York and Boston, where he would set himself up in the most luxurious suite of the finest hotels — 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 and his garments were soon adorning some of America’s greatest stars. N.Peal had entered into that cradle of post-war glamour, Hollywood.
Our intimate and buzzy group of guests, mostly consisting of passionate fans and loyal clients, were guided into the front room of the shop to start the Q&A. Leading the discussion was famed luxury writer and documentary film-maker, Charlotte Metcalfe.
“Hollywood has had a significant impact on institutions within our society, particularly fashion and creative inspiration,” Charlotte tells us, “as a creative, I am moved by the stories these two gentlemen have to tell…”.
She turns to Howard Mutti-Mewse, a fashion executive who, along with his twin brother, was inspired by old Hollywood from an early age and came to write a diary of their encounters entitled, I Used to be in Pictures. “Our grandparents introduced us to the world of English literature and American cinema,” Howard says, “There was something about the black and white films we would watch as children which appealed to us and got us hooked. What began as a school project quickly blossomed into a series of friendships with many of Hollywood’s greatest names from its ‘silent and golden era’; from Lillian Gish and James Stewart to Bob Hope and Ginger Rogers.”
What Howard reflects on is the complicated nature of the souls of these stars. Some still believed the call would come for that comeback which never did. After a quarrel with MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer in 1933, Anita Page walked out of the studio and drove up to the William Randolph Hearst estate to stay with her good friend, and Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davis, and waited for the phone to ring. The phone did not ring; Mayer had found himself a new platinum blonde by the name of Jean Harlow. Well into her nineties, Anita was still convinced they would beg for her back.
Charlotte next turned to N.Peal owner Adam Holdsworth, who had his own tale to tell about this inspiration. Adam, MD at the time, bought the brand in 2007, relaunched it, and now has four stores in London and is focused on growing the business online. He prioritises buying wool in Mongolia – the heart of cashmere production – and ensures N.Peal controls their cashmere from its origins in Mongolia right through to the finished garment.
Once Hollywood had been captured, N.Peal’s success began to soar in the fifties. “Development on the East Coast, and particularly the West Coast, including all of the Hollywood stars was a defining era for the company in terms of cementing the reputation as the go-to supplier of cashmere knitwear,” Adam explains. “This lasted right the way through the fifties, sixties and seventies.” N.Peal can credit the majority of its success to the commitment of Hollywood over its 80 year history, an anniversary we celebrate this year.
From Audrey Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe, to Dustin Hoffman and most recently Daniel Craig, N.Peal has been embraced by the leading ladies and gentleman of the silver screen. The elegant designs, Nat’s refined ‘Britishness’ (his accent proved immensely popular in America) and the exceptional quality of his garments helped attract 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.
British elegance and Hollywood glamour – fashioned defined in cashmere by N.Peal.
For more information about N.Peal, including details of its history and new Spring/Summer 2016 collection, visit www.npeal.com.