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  • Nigel Cabourn - Cult Designer - Military Maniac
  • Christopher Pickings

Nigel Cabourn - Cult Designer - Military Maniac

Nigel CabournNigel Cabourn

If you own a Nigel Cabourn jacket, or any item of Nigel's clothing for that matter, you’ll know it is something to cherish. It improves with age; it has a story and a reason for being; overall, it is the result of one man's obsession with history in terms of the utility garment. Whether the theme is Military, Exploration, Mountaineering or even Table Tennis, you can be sure that Nigel believes in it wholeheartedly and could talk to you passionately about it until the cows come home.

Nigel hails from the small in English town of Scunthorpe, situated in North Lincolnshire somewhere between Doncaster and Hull; the home town origin is still proudly evident in his voice as he talks to you at a million miles an hour, but since 1967 he has called Newcastle home.

Taking a friends advice and heading to Northumbria University to study fashion in the late 60's "because thats where all the birds were" he has remained in the area ever since, which is something of an unusual feat for a clothing designer in the UK. Let's face it, Newcastle wasn't exactly known as a centre of fashion and creativity in the 1970's! The question remains then: why did he stay in the area and how has it influenced his path as a designer?

Nigel at work in his Garden House studioNigel at work in his Garden House studio

If you ask him, he'd probably tell you that he stayed because he loved the area and didn't move to London because he wasn't like all of the other male designers who wanted to design womenswear. This is most certainly true, and we think his northern roots and design base have taken him down a more industrial path than most. Being surrounded by ship building, mining and factories in Newcastle must have played a part in the designer he has become... at least we think that this is the case!

Nigel himself will tell you that he never really intended to get into fashion and that he does not see himself as a fashion designer. He does not follow fashion, but creates every design from something real; be it a vintage garment, an image in a book, or a combination of details to create a special item of clothing - everything that is produced has integrity, style and longevity.

Inspiration for AW2012 Collection Nigel CabournInspiration sheet for Nigel Cabourn AW2012 - Scott's Last Expedition

Aside from geographical location being an influence, a mention must be made to Nigel's collection and connection to vintage. Meeting Paul Smith in 1972, two years after Nigel had first started designing menswear was serendipitous in more ways than one. Firstly Paul was, at that time, a retailer and agent representing several designers. Nigel needed somewhere to sell his wares. Secondly, Paul Smith introduced Nigel to a nice vintage RAF jacket that he had -  this changed everything and he has never looked back!

Once on the vintage path Nigel began avidly collecting and using the items to inspire his designs and collections. For over 35 years he has collected vintage military, sports, expedition and workwear clothing and books, amassing over 4000 pieces. He has endlessly obsessed over these garments being inspired by the fabrics and details in these functional, comfortable and above all, durable garments. Garments that have been created, not by fashion designers, but by technicians and scientists.

Edmund Hilary and Tenzing NorgayEdmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay

For Nigel, the first half of the last century can be categorised in to periods of adventure. Beginning with Robert Falcon Scott and his expeditions to the Antarctic, then WWI with it's military uniforms and gear being advanced to cope with the harsh conditions of the trenches. The 1920's were about George Mallory and the first expeditions to climb Everest, the 40's were WWII and the industrial machine that supported it, and the 50's were once again linked to Everest and the successful ascent made my Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

The Nigel Cabourn label has been around for nearly 40 years because it is about integrity and authenticity. You cannot fault the man for his drive and passion, and at 66 he shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. So we'll close with a quote from him about his work which we think sums things up nicely... 

"For me product comes first. The fabrics and trims, the manufacturers we work with, are all carefully chosen so we produce the best garments we can.  At the end of the day my aim with each collection or collaboration is to create timeless styles that have the quality to last, get better with age and wear and that are still relevant in years to come. Clothing that people can wear for a lifetime then pass down to their children."

That's why we like Nigel Cabourn.

Nigel Cabourn

  • Christopher Pickings