Nigel's Studio Stories
Introducing Nigel's Studio Stories – an exclusive interview in which our Head Designer candidly discusses his life, work and inspirations from his iconic Jesmond studio. Head over to our Instagram to keep up to date with the 3-part video series.
How did Nigel Cabourn start?
Well, that's child's play answering that question, because on the wall [of the office] is some 1969 drawings of the Adam Faith budgie jacket with a pair of loon pants, which all the British pop groups, including the Small Faces in the sixties [wore]. The canvas jacket with the suede trim on it, and the old Converse actually, this is really what started me off. Once I learned to draw in ‘68, I was able then to put my ideas together. And that drawing is from 1969, so that's 53 years old. I still like it, I still love it, and that's how I started.
How would you describe your personal style?
Well, I think it's very easy to describe my personal style. It's dead easy – I wear sport and military combined, or I'll do an American sport with a British military, or a pair of British workwear dungarees mixed all together. Basically, I live my life wearing what I do on Instagram – it tells everybody. That's why we've got a lot of followers between the men’s and the women’s [Instagram accounts], we wear what the brand is actually about.
What was the last place you travelled to?
Emily and myself were invited to the PV Denim Fair in Milan. We were invited with Miles Johnson, who was head of Patagonia and Levi Vintage, with another Italian guy called Alessio [Berto] who's a denim tailor. We went to that show and did a talk on the first morning to all the people that wanted to hear about denim and how I was interested in it. And then I did Spring ‘24 fabrics, and I had an amazing time going to all the vintage [stores] in Milan. There was a lot of Italian army, which is great from World War ii, a lot of American workwear as well. I saw a prisoner suit from the Second World War –Italian–, I’d never seen that one before.
So great vintage. I was able to do some of the great stores that they've got there, including Corso Como, Angelo. Then I was able to do the Armani Museum, which is very, very interesting to me. Very inspirational because I've known about Armani starting the business in 1970, he started a similar time [to me]. Then I went to the Prada Foundation which was great. I just worked my socks off to get as much inspiration as I could, and I came back full of everything, so it was amazing.
Who is your style icon?
Style icon? Robert Capa maybe. I love Robert Capa and I love his girlfriend, Greta Taro. I like the photographers particularly. There’s a few people I like – they're all in this library. I love Edmund Hillary; I love George Low his sidekick. I like George Mallory as well, because maybe he got to Everest first in 1924 but he certainly fell 800 feet from the top. Yeah, those are my style icons. And of course, I loved Mike Hawthorne. I mean, can you imagine wearing a dicky bow, a little jacket in 1958, a D type – he's a great icon as well. And of course when it's soccer, I have a few icons. I love soccer. My biggest hero, – I wanted to be a goalkeeper – I love Lev Yashini, the Russian goalkeeper for Moscow Dynamo. He was the black cat and used to wear flat cap, in all black with a number one on his back. So I’ve got quite a few icons. But nobody like David Beckham or anything, I go back a lot longer than that.
Which book has inspired you the most throughout your career?
Well, I have to say the Ascent of Everest by Sir John Hunt. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and the whole crew – the first British expedition to get the top of Everest in 1953. I was able to take all the clothes from the 12 people expedition. I used all the 12 climbers from the book, saw what they wore, and then decided to make my own version, my own swing on it. Here I am making those styles on and off for the last 20 years. And repeating them again for 2023 Winter, which is the 70th anniversary of the expedition from 1953. I'm also doing a 100th anniversary in 2024, which is based on Mallory who disappeared in 1924, because I love hooks. Hooks give me times to do things, and they give me the ideas and the inspiration and the story.
What type of music do you listen to?
Pop music, of course. I love sixties music. I love Adam Faith. That's where I got the jacket from. Love Marvin Gaye, because I love soul. I love all Motown. It's so good Motown. I don't like much modern stuff. I like The Police, but I just love sixties music. It reminds me of my parents. The old records remind me of exactly what I was doing at that moment in time.
A favourite place in the world that you always go back to and why?
Well, I think everybody knows that answer. It's got to be Japan, it's got to be Tokyo. Tokyo I love because the people are lovely, and I love the food and I love the vintage. It's great to have my own stores there, and the people who love the brand come over and say ‘we love your brand’ and that's very nice for people to appreciate something you’ve spent all your life doing. There’s a couple of beaches which are about 60 miles away from Tokyo where I spend quality time, hanging in Hayama. It’s really cool, and it's nice to be able to just relax and have a few days off as well as working very hard with all the things I have to do in Japan.
How does your travel inspire your work?
I’m a lucky guy, I travel six months of the year. Up until Covid, the last 12 years I've been going to Japan four times a year. I've managed to get everywhere – New York, LA. I go everywhere in Japan to meet everybody I love, all the people. The inspiration I get from going – one minute, I'm in Moscow, next minute in Los Angeles, next minute I'm in Tokyo, then I'm in Byron Bay in Australia. I mean the amount of inspiration I get from skateboards or surfboards, it's just incredible. And I meet so many interesting people, so I'm a very lucky guy. And even more lucky, even though we've had the covid, I decided, well, I wasn't going to get Covid. I'm a great believer in just keeping going with the same way I do. Travelling a lot, exercise a lot, going outside a lot.
What do you personally like to collect, not for the business?
I don't collect anything for me. You can't draw a line on me – my business and my hobby, what I collect and what I like are all in one big family. So, everything about me is about my business. All the inspiration is about the business, and my lifestyle is actually the way I live. It's all joined into one. If anybody does need any advice, and I'm sure there is a few people, is do what you love doing. And then it's not like a job, it's just a hobby. So I've got a wonderful hobby and everything's related to make it one big business.
Describe your daily routine, what certain things do you do?
My daily routine is starting off with exercise. You have to understand until I was 60, I was about 16 and a half stone. I'm now 73 and I'm 12 stone. But that took a lot to get off – three and a half, nearly four stone off my body took a lot of doing. So I decided when I was 60, when I was really travelling so much that I was going to drop down and get myself sorted. So I did, got rid of the weight. I started training with ping pong first. Then I went from ping pong to cross-training with medicine balls, and boxing. Then I took up tennis in a big way. So between my medicine ball training, ping pong and tennis, and I bought two fat bikes – that's what I do every morning. Every morning I do something, and I eat carefully. I do have a few drinks now and then, but I try to look after myself. I try to behave myself and look after myself. I really want to work till I drop dead. I don't want to drop dead at 73. I'd like to work at least another 10 years, the same rate.
Do you have a favourite food?
Favourite food? Well, got to say I love raw fish. I'd say that's probably it, because I've been to Japan 50 or 60 times, so obviously love raw fish. I love Korean barbecue – it's fantastic. As far as British food is concerned, I like a traditional Sunday lunch I think. But I like foreign food. That's one of the reasons why I love travelling, because I love foreign people and I love foreign food.
And finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on a Spring ‘24 now. I've got many projects in the pipeline, I can't really discuss them in advance. Collaborations are very important to our business, we've completed successful ones with Vans Vault, and with Caterpillar. We've got a couple of new ones coming up. But I think we've done something like 32 collaborations now over the last 30 years, worked with most brands. Obviously the Cabourn brand comes first. But again, the Cabourn brand and the collaborations, it's one big pile of information that I take in and it's amazing to take all this information in and be able to do six or seven jobs at once. You couldn't do this without living your life as your business.