Luxury cashmere retailer that appeals to a certain superspy

Adam Holdsworth, managing director and owner of N.Peal. Picture: Tony JohnsonAdam Holdsworth, managing director and owner of N.Peal. Picture: Tony Johnson
Adam Holdsworth, managing director and owner of N.Peal. Picture: Tony Johnson

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Adam Holdsworth rescued luxury cashmere retailer N.Peal out of administration. Now he is opening a shop in New York. Lizzie Murphy reports.

When Adam Holdsworth went to see the hugely-anticipated James Bond film Skyfall at the cinema, he was more excited than most.

There was a rumour that the Bond stylist had bought 25 of his company’s blue cashmere jumpers for Daniel Craig to wear in the film and he was eager to see if it was true.

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“We didn’t know at the time, but the Bond stylist was looking round various stores in London for a particular blue that would complement Daniel Craig’s eyes and we had exactly the right colour, lapis blue,” says the managing director of luxury cashmere retailer N.Peal.

“But we didn’t know for certain until the film came out. It was really exciting - there he was in Scotland wearing the sweater.”

The stylist was so impressed with the product that when he was preparing for the next film, Spectre, he asked N.Peal to develop two cashmere jumpers: a turtleneck and a cable roll neck, which Bond wears for a large part of the film.

“What was really exciting was that they used our sweaters for the promo shots,” says Holdsworth. “We ended up on the huge billboard in Leicester Square. For a small business that’s really exciting but it got taken down after two weeks because the main sponsor, Tom Ford, wasn’t happy. It was changed to a white tuxedo.”

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Now Holdsworth, 51, is keeping his fingers crossed that his company will also feature in the next Bond outing.

The association with the franchise is a major coup for the small, quintessentially British company headquartered in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales.

The business, which employs 90 people in total, sells luxury cashmere knitwear and accessories, which are designed in London and made in China, with cashmere from Mongolian goats.

The retailer’s strength, according to Holdsworth, is in its supply chain. It has an office in Mongolia, employing 12 people. “That office allows us to control the supply chain from the herder through the spinning, dyeing and knitting processes and right into to our stores,” he says.

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He adds: “We sell to everyone, from their thirties through to their nineties.”

Based in a converted barn in Beamsley, near Bolton Abbey, N.Peal is following in the footsteps of its founder Nat Peal who opened his first shop in Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade in London in 1936.

The company, which has five shops in London, is expanding its footprint overseas this month with a shop in the heart of New York.

The New York expansion comes in the wake of a stellar year in which N.Peal’s sales soared to £15m.

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“These are extremely exciting times for N.Peal,” said Mr Holdsworth. “In the past couple of years we have opened new stores in Piccadilly, Mayfair and Covent Garden, launched a dedicated US website and established an effective distribution network through on-line fashion retailer Farfetch. Now we feel the time is right to open our first New York shop.”

Holdsworth’s strategy is to open flagship stores in key international locations which will support the development of global on-line sales.

When the company was founded, Peal supplied his store with sweaters knitted from the wool of Shetland sheep.

After the Second World War, he began to make annual trips to New York and Boston to grow his business in the US, where Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant and Ava Gardner were among his famous customers. Even now, the retailer attracts Hollywood stars to its London stores.

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N.Peal remained popular and loved until the 1990s, when the arrival of the “mega-brands” elbowed out its individual quality.

Holdsworth came to the rescue in 2006, when he bought the ailing business from Chuck Feeney, the billionaire founder of Duty Free Shopper.

The company, which had gone into administration, had been broken up and all the bits sold separately. Holdsworth bought the name.

“We had to start again from scratch and build it all up,” he says. “It was a business I’d really respected and when I started looking into the heritage I just became incredibly passionate about it.”

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Holdsworth admits he didn’t know anything about running a luxury retail business and he entered a baptism of fire when the 2008 financial crash happened just after the business launched. “I’m not sure how we survived the first couple of years,” he says. “Our bank did its best to put us out of business so we were incredibly fortunate and we’ve always grown.”

Born in Ikley, Holdsworth came from an internationally-trading family wool-merchant business, led by his father. The Bradford-based business traded wool out into China, and later started trading and buying cashmere back from China and Mongolia.

After leaving Newcastle Polytechnic with a business studies degree, Holdsworth spent 20 years in the family business before setting up mail order business Pure Collection in 2002 with his friend Nick Falkingham in Harrogate.

The pair grew the business to a turnover of over £35m and Holdsworth remained a director until he sold his share two years ago.

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Holdsworth is a married father-of-four and lives a mile and a half from his office.

The businessman, who describes himself as outgoing, hospitable, interested and driven, says he has always had a competitive instinct. “I’m not ambitious, but if I want to do something I’ll go and do it. I just don’t necessarily want to rule the world. My only ambition is to be happy,” he says.

Adam Holdsworth Fact file

Title: Managing director and owner of N.Peal

Date of birth: 29th May, 1966

Education: Sedburgh School; Business studies degree at Newcastle Polytechnic

First job: Wool merchant at the family business run by my father

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Favourite film: Skyfall (because we supplied the blue round neck sweater for Bond)

Favourite song: Fix You, by Coldplay

Favourite holiday destination: Maldives

Last book read: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.

Car driven: Range Rover

Most proud of: My family