Not so very long ago, cashmere was considered out of the reach of most of us, at least for ordinary wear. Prized for its softness and warmth, it was generally deemed too expensive, delicate and high maintenance to be part of a modern day-to-day wardrobe.
So cashmere was best kept for special occasions, although admittedly many designs looked dated and uninspiring, not suitable should you really be wanting to impress.
But over the past decade or so, those perceptions have changed, thanks in no small part to Harrogate-based Pure Collection, whose investment and expertise in cashmere have helped transform the golden fleece into luxurious pieces that you can wear every day – affordable and long-lasting, in beautiful contemporary and classic styles, many of which you can even put in the washing machine.
Founded in 2002 by Yorkshiremen Nick Falkingham and Adam Holdsworth, Pure began with an order of 1,500 pieces. Now it’s one of the largest cashmere retailers in the world, boasting a mail order business and an e-commerce platform. In 2006 it launched its trademark “British style meets luxury cashmere” ethos into the US.
The following year, after customers asked for beautiful clothes in other fabrics to wear with cashmere, Pure launched its womenswear range in silk, linen, cotton, jersey and other luxe materials. In 2011, the brand entered the UK High Street with shops in York and in Tunbridge Wells, later joined by five more, in Chichester, Guildford, London, Marlow and Reigate, with more on the way. It is also stocked in concessions in selected John Lewis stores, including the one in Sheffield.
The appointment last month of Jo Hooper as product director is testament to the importance that Pure is placing on design and quality. Previously director of womenswear buying at John Lewis, Jo is now consulting on all aspects of Pure’s design, buying, sourcing and strategy. Meanwhile, John Nicholas, who joined Pure last year as chief operating officer, is the new CEO, with Nick Falkingham becoming executive vice chairman.
“The business has been based on the beauty of cashmere, which is the building block and foundations,” says Jo. “It has gone on to move into beautiful printed shirts, linen tailoring and maxies and linen jersey and lots of other lovely product – great styles that not only form the basis of your wardrobe but pieces that inspire you to say ‘oh my word, this is going to update my look and my wardrobe and make me feel great’.”
Pure has been able to use its expertise and experience, teamed with modern manufacturing processes, to create lighter cashmere weights, including open-knit gassato cashmere and the incredibly light and fine featherweight cashmere, offering pieces that can be worn in summer as well as winter. “Cashmere has become the thing that people go to for cover-ups,” says Jo, pointing out that there are, for example, fine cashmere ponchos just perfect for slipping on in summer evenings. “We’ve worked quite hard to ensure that it is a product that people want all year round.”
Pure Collection employs more than 200 people across its headquarters in Harrogate, where the designing takes place, and its distribution centre in nearby Knaresborough. The goat-to-garment production all happens in Inner Mongolia, where the cashmere is sourced. The retailer has been pioneering a programme to ensure that all of its cashmere is sustainable, nurturing relationships with herders to obtain the best quality at a fair price. And this is a company that believes in putting something back, so far raising more than £200,000 to help the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation.
In the newly released high summer collection, look out for a very chic silk kimono jacket to wear with jeans or over a bikini for an instant update, plus lots of lovely quality linen and cotton pieces. For the autumn, the collection will build on its key staple wardrobe pieces and offer beautiful longer line sleeveless styles, brightly coloured tweed pieces, and luxe cable styles.
“Cable is looking super-strong,” says Jo, adding that there will also be a cashmere shape with a wide Bardot neckline – “a nod to the cold shoulder but it’s not going to get you cold, it’s quite Audrey. We’re building on the things that we are known for but with some surprising twists as well.”
Pure Collection has a boutique in York, is available at selected John Lewis stores and online, and also at purecollection.com.