Nigel Cabourn x Element Wolfeboro — Made to Endure the Elements
Nigel and his team have been hard at work, creating a new collection for Element. Taking cues from skateboarding’s early days, the US military design of the 1960s and classic American hunting garb, they’ve created a range of parkas, smocks and utility vests perfectly honed for modern-day skirmishes.
As you might expect, there’s quite a lot to talk about with this stuff, but before we get into the finer details, it probably makes sense to give a little bit of a primer on Element and what they’re about.
Before Element, there was Underworld Element, an Atlanta-based skate brand founded in 1992 by skateboarder turned graphic-design maestro Andy Howell. With a strong hip-hop influence, Underworld Element helped usher in a baggier, graffiti flavour a million miles away from the day-glo designs associated with skating in the late 80s, and their 1993 audio/visual masterpiece, Skypager is still rightfully regarded as a stone cold classic today.
In 1994 the Underworld in the title was dropped, and when Howell left to pursue various other artistic endeavours, it was left in the capable hands of Johnny Schilleref — a fellow creatively-minded skater who had already been working on the brand’s designs. The earlier, more ‘cartoony’ visual style was lost, and Element was born.
Since then Element has released countless videos, sponsored everyone from early street-skating fore-father Natas Kaupas to boombox aficionado Chad Muska, and pioneered all manner of lightweight board designs — all whilst retaining that trademark tree logo.
Over the last few years Johnny has developed Element Wolfeboro — a collection of tough outdoor gear taking inspiration from his ancestors, who in 1926 built a lakeside cabin in the rugged mountainous setting of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. It’s this range that Nigel has lent his design chops to.
When they first hit the drawing board, both Johnny and Nigel were keen to look at the seemingly disparate worlds of 1960s skateboarding, military clobber and hunting gear for inspiration. On the face of it, this might seem like a slightly curious blend, but one thing that unites skateboarders, the military, fishermen and hunters is that need for functional, hard-wearing clothes — and all activities traditionally rely on hardy cotton twill.
Back in the ‘60s, skateboarding was seen as little more than a fad. Originally devised as a past-time for bored and presumably land-locked surfers, the first boards were simple chunks of sanded wood bolted onto roller-skate wheels. With little in the way of infrastructure or industry, participants were left to their own devices — cutting their own boards and devising their own style. Jeans, cords and cotton-twill work-shirts lasted longer than more formal garb, and whilst some early pioneers preferred to go barefoot, flat-soled canvas tennis pumps or CVOs soon became the shoes of choice.
Likewise, the US Army has always relied on no-nonsense, utilitarian details, and the jackets worn by soldiers in the 60s still stand up as perfect examples of well-thought out design. Since Johnny grew up in a military family that was constantly moving around the United States, it made perfect sense to draw upon these time-honoured functional designs.
The Murray Long Reversible Parka is perhaps the prime example of this. It’s a 3/4 length parka loaded with subtle details. Angled pockets for ease-of-entry… that button on the collar for when it gets cold… mesh vents under the arms. Oh yeah, and as you’d expect from the name, it’s reversible. On one side it’s crisp emerald green, and on the other side there’s that aptly-titled ‘Crazy Camouflage’ first used by Nigel back in the 1980s.
The Alder Hunting Parka continues the theme for nifty, considered features and potent technicolour camo flavour. It’s a field jacket based around a 1950s hunting number from Nigel’s collection, with a big peaked stowaway hood hidden in the collar, an ‘action-back’ (that’s the fancy name for those gussets on the shoulder which make reaching the top shelf of your spice rack a bit easier) and those dual-entry pockets — ideal for warming hands and stowing keys.
Then there’s the Alder Hunting Vest — inspired by the kind of thing hunters and fishermen would wear in the classic images of the American outdoors found in old issues of the National Geographic. Not only is there a massive poacher’s pocket on the back (originally devised for carrying pheasants and the like — now pretty handy for boarding passes and other such ‘easy-to-lose’ bits of paper), but the blaze orange liner zips down for a bit of extra coverage.
That zip-down orange lining is also used on the Barrow Military Smock to great effect. Whilst to some this might just look like a nice bit of punchy colour contrast, it’s actually a cunning detail nabbed from flight jackets – and was first used on MA-1 bomber jackets so that stranded pilots could wear ‘em inside-out to alert rescue missions. Clever stuff.
Even those peyote-soaked stripes on the Alder Blanket Fleece are derived from an original authentic detail — as hunting jackets and barn coats would often be lined with striped blankets from America’s woollen mills for a bit of extra warmth in the winter months. Not many of those old jackets were reversible like Nigel’s version, but it seems a shame to hide a pattern as good as that.
We could go on, so before we ramble on too much more, we’ll just say that there’s a lot of clever details here. As it says on the label — it’s made to endure the elements, it’s inspired by simple living, and it was designed in England. It looks pretty good too.
The Nigel Cabourn x Element Wolfeboro range is available now in Nigel Cabourn Army Gym stores in London and Japan. It is also available at selected retailers.