What, pray tell, possesses a husband and wife team to leave behind successful careers in London, to buy a little-known Highland outfitters north of Inverness? “After 10 years working in menswear in London, I became disillusioned with the direction that some British brands were taking,” explains John Sugden, who did just that in 2015 with his wife, Nicola. Today the couple are the owners of Campbell’s of Beauly, a country outfitters and tailors that’s been nestled on Beauly high street in the Highlands since 1858.
“I’ve no interest in ‘global brands’, Sugden continues, “I’ve always worked for craft-based companies, and when a brand tries to ‘go global’, all too often it loses its originality. Plus, I wanted to get out of London with Nicola, and live in the countryside where we’d both been brought up. So, after some deliberation, we approached Campbell’s, and here we are today.”
I visited Campbell’s recently, and was totally charmed by the shop and its foibles. Quite apart from a wide array of locally spun and finished Scottish knitwear, classic country accessories (think silk pheasant and shotgun cartridge patterned ties) and chunky ‘jumbo’ corduroy trousers in every colour under the sun, Campbell’s has done a deft job of evolving to offer country clothes that feel relevant, while keeping those special 150-year-old sensitivities alive and kicking.
Even so, contemporising the brand hasn’t been easy. “There was so much to do when we took over and it’s been a really hard slog,” says Sugden. “But, Campbell’s had all the elements that I felt were necessary to give the company a wider appeal. Campbell’s provenance isn’t contrived; our history and heritage is there for all to see. We just had to harness these elements while applying a more modern outlook and approach. Within the shop itself, we worked hard to maintain the charm of the original fixtures and fittings, but modernised the stock for today’s customer. Believe it or not when we moved in, there was no computer system in place and the books were still kept by pencil and ledger.
Alongside its revamped ready-to-wear products (and its modern stock-taking system) Campbell’s has an impressive bespoke operation, headed up by Head Cutter Lara Bradbeer. Interestingly, her background is film and theatre costume, so her approach to bespoke tailoring is a little novel, but it’s also on-point. She cuts everything from tweed sports coats to corduroy suits, kilt jackets, kilts, tartan trews and velvet smoking jackets. She also oversees a bustling workshop with six tailors on-site, which was recently opened by Campbell’s patron The Prince of Wales during a visit to the shop (see above
This is, perhaps, the cherry on the Campbell’s cake, because apart from the house’s attractive outside-of-London prices and Bradbeer’s dexterous cutting, Campbell’s champions a softer construction than you’d expect, creating tailoring that feels relevant whether you plump for tweed, cashmere or a worsted suit for the office. “Really good tweed is bulletproof,” says Sugden. “The structure is in the fabric, which allows for a much softer approach to our tailoring’s construction – it feels substantial, but not stiff.”
In many ways, this is the ideal summation for Campbell’s of Beauly today. John and Nicola have turned what was a tired little shop into the quintessential Highland outfitters, filled with hearty tweed tailoring, satisfyingly soft cashmere knits and good old fashioned service. It’s a treat to visit, and heartily recommended to any readers who find themselves in the Highlands this season.