it's a boys own adventure with parka pioneer nigel cabourn
The fashion industry is hardly starved of big characters, from the fabulous to the ludicrous, but there can be few bigger ones than Nigel Cabourn, i-D caught up with Cabourn at his first London store opening on Henrietta Street off Covent Garden, where...
A boundlessly energetic and enthusiastic 65-year-old who's been doggedly pursuing his military and explorer aesthetic since the '70s. From his studio in Newcastle, Cabourn has carved out a menswear niche (he added a womenswear line 18 months ago) that has made him a legend in Japan, where he first rose to prominence with Margaret Howell, Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith in 1980s.
Is this your first UK shop?
Yeah. I've got five shops in Japan, which are basically the same, but this one is really quite purist. I've tried to take this back to basics - it's got the original walls and the floors are recycled wood from an old school. I've tried to keep it as close to my imagination of an old army gym. It's got the boxing, the fat bike from America in an army green and the medicine balls. It's got a sportswear feel. And the RAF influence, because I'm interested in first and second world war. It's got all those bits that I bought myself, like the WWI duffle coat in the window. That is so rare. And I've got the pictures of the fighter pilots from WWI and WWII. And the flag is the first royal flying flag. It's 100 years old! And there's a basket weave airplane here, which was made by prisoners of war in WWII.
All the vintage stuff here is for display only though, right?
Oh, I'm not selling anything, no! My clothes have all got a heritage though. I'm inspired by the wars, Antarctica, Everest and all those boys adventure books from the 1950s.
Where are your collections made?
All the Cabourn products are made in the UK. We use all-genuine British fabric where we can. 80% is British fabric. And the design team are based in Newcastle.
And you have Main Line, which is normally only available in Japan.
Yes, that's downstairs. We design it in Newcastle, but we produce it in Japan, using Japanese fabrics, and I go out there four times a year. I've got a full design team out there. We've been doing Main Line for about five or six years.
When did the Japanese fascination with you begin?
It started in 1980. I was showing in Paris and I met a gentleman who was working with Margaret Howell. He was her Japanese partner, a man called Sam Sugure. He loved what we were doing and asked if I'd be interested in getting involved with him in the Japanese market. He placed a really large order in Paris and distributed it throughout Japan, and he was doing the same with Margaret. We were the first individual designers in Japan - not talking big companies like Burberry. Paul Smith and Katharine Hamnett came in after us. I think Vivienne would have been there too.
Why do you think the Japanese love your stuff so much?
What we make is very British, very authentic, beautiful quality. And I have to say I'm buying a lot of British vintage in Japan, because they appreciate the quality and pay the money for it.
Can you give us some insight to the mind of a collector?
It's a permanent job for me. I'm not just a designer. I'm a vintage collector, collector of vintage books. I got back to about 1904 with Shackleton and Scott, and I'm really interested in that 125-year period. I'm not going back further than that, because it's too naïve.
What else are you working on right now?
I'm doing a project now on mountain climbing in the 60s. I'm doing a collaboration with Karrimor. And collaborations with Filson, Converse and Fred Perry.
Did you pick this part of Covent Garden because it was near all the outdoors and hiking shops?
It's with me all the time. It never goes away. I'm so inspired by the mountains.
Your parkas are brilliant, but there have been lots of rip-off versions. Does that bother you?
The Cameraman jacket has been ripped off the most. And the Everest parka. I'm used to it now!
Who is the Cabourn customer?
I've got kids, 19-21, and guys in their 60s. You get what you pay for with Cabourn. The money is in the product, not the advertising.
Text Stuart Brumfitt