Peter Millar has grown from a line of cashmere sweaters into a luxury lifestyle brand offering a varied collection that is thriving worldwide.
By Michelle Rae Uy
In 2001, an intrepid trio of entrepreneurs led by Chris Knott took a timeless concept in apparel and brought it quite literally into the 21st century. Despite the casual fashion trends that were popping up in LA and New York City—jeans, leather jackets and tattered Chuck Taylors—the always impeccably dressed Southern boy saw the need for the classics, and thus, Peter Millar was born. At that time, it had a solitary product: cashmere sweaters that were straightforward, comfortable to wear and like butter to touch.
In a world where startups are commonplace and small businesses come and go, Peter Millar has done what most can’t, standing the test of time and expanding swiftly. In the last 17 years, from its grass-roots beginnings in Bristol, Tennessee, the now North Carolina-based luxury lifestyle brand has garnered a devoted following around the world.
Chairman and CEO Scott Mahoney insists that sheer luck played a part in its success. “We had really good fortune along the way,” he explains. It’s not false modesty. The brand does owe a lot of its success to a series of very fortunate events: getting the right people together at the right time, in the right place, to discuss the right ideas.
Mahoney previously did a lot of work with Sea Island during his tenure at Ralph Lauren, and thought it a good idea to bring the Sea Island team on as investors. Sea Island saw the potential and acquired a majority interest in 2005 (a private equity firm purchased that interest from Sea Island in 2009). Mahoney, who left Ralph Lauren to run Peter Millar that same year, said that Sea Island’s iconic status really helped seal the company’s fate. “One of the most immediate byproducts of this was—and it was really unintended—that this young, unknown company was able to latch on to Sea Island’s long, cultured history,” he explains. “With the help of Sea Island, Peter Millar transformed into a lifestyle brand.”
Indeed, the brand expanded its product line to include casual and button-down menswear, outerwear, accessories and even womenswear; it went from having only five employees and 400 square feet of space to opening its very own state-of-the-art, 120,000-square-foot distribution center in Durham, North Carolina.
The beauty of Peter Millar is that it’s never been about one person. There’s no Peter Millar, first of all—Knott got the name from a lawn bowling ball his mom gave him. Secondly, the brand is the result of the collaborative efforts of a number of people and entities, from Knott and partners Chet Sikorski and Greg Oakley to Mahoney himself and Sea Island’s support.
There are also the 250 employees that keep the business running like a well-oiled machine. The headquarters are in Durham, and at the nearby warehouse, Vice President of Operations Allen Rowe set the bar of service high after driving a package to FedEx himself the night before Christmas Eve so that a customer could get his order in time.
The products themselves are also, in a way, collaborative. Peter Millar has captured and re-created the best of the past, while also encapsulating the here and now. The brand’s designs are amalgamations of the good old days when folks dressed to the nines even when running simple errands, and the more relaxed, modern approach that blends elegant style with casual fun. Peter Millar is also known for its excellent quality. The company has mastered the art of great sourcing, which allows it to offer beautifully made products in opulent materials sans the excessive price tag.
All of these elements combined paved the way for the brand to acquire a multigenerational clientele, as well as sell to hundreds of specialty shops, golf shops, country clubs and resorts worldwide. Its shop at Sea Island opened in 2016.
Is the brand changing the landscape of luxury lifestyle wear forever? Time will tell, but one thing is for certain: Peter Millar has proved that looking sharp never goes out of style.
Stylish selections from Peter Millar for men and women can be found at the Peter Millar Collection shop at The Cloister and the Sea Island Golf Club Pro Shop at The Lodge.