Nigel Cabourn has been playing coats for years. He and Massimo Osti – the founder of Stone Island – lead the way for coats back in the day and have ever since. For someone with the credentials Cabourn possesses, you’d probably forgive him for being somewhat egotistical. But he’s not. In reality, he couldn’t be more the opposite.
Proper Magazine sat down with Nigel at his Army Gym store in Covent Garden to find out more about Nigel himself, as oppose to the brand. We discussed his childhood, what it was like growing up in the sixties, his relationship with the founder of Stone Island, plus his passion for Scunthorpe United.
TW: Nigel, we want to know about you. Tell us about your youth…
NC: Well I was born in Scunthorpe in 1949 and was lucky enough to grow up as a young person in the fifties and sixties. I supported Scunthorpe United and wanted to be a professional goalkeeper from about six or seven, up until I was about 16. Then in the sixties I started to find myself becoming more interested in clothes than I was by football, and by the time I was 17 I was at Fashion College in Newcastle.
Growing up at that time meant I was inspired by British pop music, I had a weird Vietnamese obsession and then there was flower power in 1967, too. So take that, Vietnam and British and American pop music and you can understand why I started my own clothing business. I had so much inspiration.
Massimo Osti was the only one up there with me at the time. The only guy trying to do the same thing. You look at outwear people and you’d think of me and him and I can’t really think of anyone else. You might think of Filson as a brand and possibly Stone Island, but that was Massimo Osti. Outerwear is a hugely difficult subject.
You mentioned music playing a big part, what kind of stuff did you listen to?
I was so impressed with the Small Faces, the Who, I loved Booker T. & the M.G.’s, the Four Tops. I used to hitchhike all around England in the sixties looking at groups and looking for inspiration from the music and what they were wearing. It was about Loom Pants and military wear. So many cool fuckers. I once climbed a fucking flag pole to steal a British flag to make a jacket like Pete Townsend used to wear.
I ended up meeting so many people in the sixties. When I was hitchhiking I met all of Cream in 1968 at Wetherby Roundabout – I was 18. There they were in an old van that was beat to shit, they looked scruffy as you like but they came out the van and I started to talk to them and they were really nice. They were a fucking mess, but they looked cool.
Sport is a big inspiration and passion, too, right?
I used to love Lev Yashin, the keeper. He was the best in the world during the fifties and he used to wear this great black top – and in fact this is what I’ve just done with Fred Perry. The black top with the white number. Would you believe that as a kid I was mainly inspired by someone because they looked good in a black kit with a white number 1? No other keeper had a number on the back in the fifties. He was the reason I wanted to be a keeper, too.
On the subject of football, do you still catch any Scunthorpe United games?
I saw them play MK Dons last week. I was going to go to Oldham on Tuesday too because we’ve been flying high at the top, but we ended up losing 2-0. So lucky I didn’t go really. I go watch them quite a bit, though. I could go and watch Newcastle every week, but I prefer the lower leagues, I admire traditional, old-fashioned football.
You also mentioned the collaboration you did with Fred Perry, how did that come about?
Fred Perry came to me three times to do a collaboration and before I was never really a big fan of the brand. But after I had a chat with their team, I realised how similar they were to me: the majority of their products are made in England, they were low-key and weren’t big-headed. I liked that.
A few years back I weighed 15 stone and I started to play for the first time since I was a kid, I was a bit like Forrest Gump. Everyday 6:30am. I became really good and ended up losing loads of weight. So I thought if I was going to do something with them, I wanted to do what they were really about. It took them six months to come back and agree to it, but they did and that was the first season.
How important are the materials you use on your products?
As a designer I’m completely fabric driven. A lot of designers nowadays, especially younger designers, don’t have a clue about fabrics. I think what sets Cabourn aside from other brands is the materials I use.
Design to me is about: fabric, it’s about spirit, it’s about being inspired by real life things – functional inspirations and then putting all of that together into my clothing. Cabourn is about longevity, it’s about heritage.
Is fabric and longevity what makes Cabourn and Osti so similar, too?
Yes, he always had exactly the same mentality as me when it came to outerwear. Osti was all about high-quality Italian fabric and made some sensational pieces. I met Massimo a few times before he passed away. We knew we were very similar.
You can find the full interview in our latest mag that’s available from our online store!
Images: Ben Benoliel