Quarantine Routines and Vintage Gold – an Interview with Nigel Cabourn
Whether he’s searching for ultra-rare vintage gold down a Koenji side-street, or leafing through old photo-books on a Parisian market stall, it’s safe to say that travelling the globe makes up a large chunk of Nigel Cabourn’s life.
Usually this is all well and good, but with quarantine and FaceTime replacing those picturesque jaunts, he’s had to make some pretty hefty adjustments to the way he works.
So how has he been managing with the world in lockdown? We called him up to find out…
“The key is to have a routine,” he says. “I’m not getting up quite as early. Usually I get up at five o’clock to train at six, but now, when the mood is a bit lower, it seems a bit stupid to be getting up at five when I’ve got plenty of time to fill. So now, I’m out of bed at eight, and training at nine.”
For Nigel, that means either training ‘old style’ with some medicine balls (the same kind which Mohammed Ali liked to use back in his heyday) or riding his Surly fat bike alongside the Tyne.
After that, it’s a hearty meal of what he calls ‘wholesome stuff’—nothing fancy, just bananas and porridge, and maybe some boiled eggs and avocado—before he knuckles down to work. As travel and the endless hunt for vintage garb fuels a large part of Nigel’s design work, he’s had to look a lot closer for inspiration.
“I live for work, I live for travel and I live for my friends. I’m used to going away every couple of weeks—I usually go to Japan four times a year—so instead of travelling I’ve ended up going through my vintage collection, which is something I haven’t had time to do for years.”
As you might expect, this isn’t any old vintage collection, and at last count there was over 4,000 items of clothing in there. Nigel describes collecting vintage garb as a 40 year old hobby, although he’s keen to point out that there is a purpose behind all those old clothes, and each piece is used in some way, somewhere down the line.
“If you go to a solicitor, he doesn’t know all the law—he has to refer to his books. It’s the same for me. I have to refer to my pieces. Every piece I make has come from a vintage piece. Sometimes it has come from one piece, and sometimes it’s got four ideas in it.”
As well as his clothing archive, Nigel also has a huge library containing nearly 3,000 books on everything from rare military clothing to the glory days of motorsport. This love of books and imagery is what originally piqued Nigel’s interest in the Stonemasters—the California climbers who inspired his current collection.
“I was just looking at these guys who were out there in California, dressed very cool, climbing free, without ropes, up those huge cliffs. There are two or three really great books on the subject, one actually called The Stonemasters, and they were very inspiring for me.”
Decked out in white painter pants and paisley shirts, this lot might have looked more members of a San Francisco psych band than anyone planning to climb their way into the history books, but the way they took existing gear and made it their own had a lot in common with the brave explorers who came before them.
“The people who went up Everest from the 1920s were climbing in Harris Tweed jackets, and in the 50s they were wearing customised WW2 clothing,” explains Nigel. “They weren’t wearing traditional ‘mountain wear’ at all. It didn’t exist.”
“The Stonemasters didn’t have any special clothes either,” he says. “They were just going out in their hippy gear—and it was so hot that they were just down to their board-shorts anyway. They had that ’67, ’68 Vietnam kind of inspiration too, with their military jackets, and in some of the pictures they’d be wearing battered-up painter pants—which we used as inspiration for the Lybro Carpenter dungarees.”
It’s this mix of styles and influences which interests Nigel. The clothes are just one piece of the puzzle—the culture around them is just as important. “I’m always drawn to something that’s a bit romantic. All the mountaineering that I’ve been interested in hasn’t been traditional mountaineering. It’s always been something quirky or different.”
Currently working on his winter 2021 range (as well as a few collaborations that we’re not allowed to talk about yet), and slowly cataloguing his archive (the standout pieces he photographs on his trusty ping-pong table), it seems he’s managed to stay just as busy as ever.
As we leave him to go back to his archive, he offers up a few quick words of wisdom; “The main thing is routine and positivity,” he says. “You’ve got to stick to something that’s worth doing. This is the time to learn to draw, or read a lot, or think about how you’re going to move yourself forward. You’ve got to make the most of it somehow.”