Nigel Cabourn Authentic SS20 - The Stonemasters
This season Nigel Cabourn is paying homage to the Stonemasters — a rag-tag band of long-haired outsiders who took to the sun-soaked cliff-faces of California in the early 1970s to pioneer a gimmick-free style of rock-climbing, stripped-down to it’s purest form.
Whilst scrambling around on rocks has been going on in some form for hundreds of years, the Stonemasters are often credited as being the first to really push the aesthetic elements of climbing — for this lot it wasn’t about getting to the top, but how they got there.
Inspired by surfing and the laid-back way of life that surrounded it, people like Jim Bridwell, John Long and Lynn Hill merged rock climbing with California counter-culture — moving climbing away from a pastime reserved for the minted elite and into an all-encompassing lifestyle. Whilst some held down jobs or studied at college, a fair few lived hand-to-mouth, scavenging for food and sleeping in their cars.
After starting out on the surreal rock formations of Joshua Tree in southern California, the Stonemasters made their name on the sheer cliff-faces of Yosemite National Park. It’s here they honed the wild and fairly perilous arts of free-climbing (climbing with ropes just to break falls, rather than to help make progress) and free-soloing (climbing with no ropes at all).
Taking influence from the taut strength of Bruce Lee and the freedom of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing, the Stonemasters cut back on equipment to rely solely on the body and the mind. Whilst older climbers would take days on certain routes, bogged down by heavy accessories, the Stonemasters sought to scale their climbs with speed and grace.
As well as all the climbing, the social, communal aspect was important too – and things like cooking dinner, playing music and sitting around the campfire after a tough climb became crucial ingredients in the outdoor life.
Their clothes also played a key part. With nothing like the multi-billion dollar outdoor clothing industry which exists today, the Stonemasters were left to cobble together a vague uniform of thrift-shop wares and army surplus garb. Old military overshirts… tough white painter pants… paisley shirts… tie-dyed headbands… whereas the hikers of the 40s and 50s were often photographed in thick roll-neck jumpers and clunky leather boots, the Stonemasters dressed like they’d just stumbled out of San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium after a Jefferson Airplane gig.
Jim Bridwell is the man credited for adding this psychedelic flare to the proceedings. Often seen as the unofficial leader of the Stonemasters, Jim was a little older than the rest — he was around for the counter-culture revolution of the 60s and had first climbed in Yosemite in 1961. In an old interview, fellow Yosemite vagabond Dale Bard said that Bridwell would actually dress the Stonemasters if he knew there was a photographer around — keen to present them in the most bold and rebellious way possible.
But as bold as some of this gear might have looked, function did play a part. Not only were the thick canvas painter pants tough, but as they were white, they’d reflect the harsh sunlight up on the exposed cliffs of Yosemite, keeping legs cooler than in darker trousers. The ever-present headbands also served a utilitarian purpose, keeping long, flowing locks from obstructing vision half-way through a perilous ascent.
How does all this feed into Nigel’s new Authentic collection? Well, a lot of it comes down to the fabrics, and the way they’ve been treated. Taking cues from the Stonemasters’ penchant for worn-in cotton, fabrics have been given specialist washes and dyes for a soft, comfortable handle and a tastefully lived-in look.