Exploring Sportswear History with Umbro and Nigel Cabourn

We got to grips with the influence behind the second Umbro x Nigel Cabourn collaboration.

Umbro x Nigel Cabourn

If the fashion world looks stush, then Nigel Cabourn is the solution. The smiliest-man-in-fashion’s influence can be felt all over the globe, from the UK to Japan. Cabourn has been working for over 40 years, but one thing has always set him apart: a reluctance to conform to trends, and a love of vintage military garments. 

Cabourn’s clothes have united workwear, military and sportswear for as long as he’s been making them – way before every brand decided that functional was a unique selling point and military was the season’s hottest trend. Cabourn has been obsessing over the details of military jackets – collecting and learning about everything from M-65 US Military Field jackets to Burmese Chindit uniforms – and infusing his clothes with their functional prowess since his early days studying fashion in 1970. In fact, Cabourn sites an interaction with Paul Smith as the beginning of his obsession with military wear: Paul handed him an RAF jacket in 1972 that, like kindling to a spark, started an all-consuming military-flavoured flame in Cabourn’s mind. 

Credits: Hypbeast

But it isn’t just military wear that Cabourn is an expert in. The designer, also a famously keen exercise-enthusiast, digs the archives of sportswear just as frequently as he does that of the military, and has more than a penchant for vintage sportswear that played a part in his youth. Just to cement the two influences: Cabourn’s stores are called Army Gym. 

Cabourn’s second collaboration with Umbro builds upon this. Inspired by British Army recruit PT gear and the uniforms of Army Gymnastic Staff, Cabourn has released a nine-piece capsule of casual gym wear and retro uniforms.   

“My first Umbro collab collection was a reference to the brand’s British sporting heritage as well as its connection with the rugby world,” says Cabourn. “But with this second capsule I wanted to give Umbro the complete Cabourn seal of approval with a set of styles inspired by the Army Gym design personality which is so close to my heart.”

Umbro – as Cabourn declares below – has been creating leading sportswear since the 50s, shaping and leaving its mark on the career prospects of any kid that dreamt about a future in sport. 

Proper Mag got some words from the main man’s mouth about the latest collection. 

Why is Umbro a natural collab partner for Cabourn?

Although Umbro is well known for its production of football and rugby kits, I learned something very interesting from the last collection. During WWII production came to a stop for Umbro and the factory switched from manufacturing sportswear to Army supplies including military uniforms. So, this side of the brand seemed to seamlessly fit with my love for collecting military uniforms and vintage sportswear. Umbro is also very sentimental to me as it was the first ever football kit I owned in the 1950’s. This was also the time I dreamt about becoming a professional goalkeeper. 

What was the design inspo behind this second collab collection with Umbro? 

The inspiration came from looking at old school Umbro silhouettes I found in my archive along with interesting sports uniforms worn by The Army Physical Training Corps during WWII. We split the collection into two, looking specifically at the A. P. T. C ‘Instructors’ offering a slightly more formal look using traditional army cotton drill and ‘The Recruit’ as the more classic sportswear look using iconic Cabourn cotton jersey. 

How has it evolved from the first rugby-themed collection and what synergies do they both have with each other? 

After learning about Umbro’s military involvement we then combined it with the announcement of designing the 2020 England rugby kit for the first collection. For this second collection we moved it on a little bit by combining Umbro’s military involvement with a different form of physical exercise inspired by The Army Physical Training Corps during WWII. I love training so even now I incorporate exercises that the A. P. T. C used such as throwing medicine balls. This has always been a very important part of my fitness regime for a long time now, so much so I used to take them with me all around the world on research trips so I could keep up with my fitness routine. 

What is your favourite style in the new collection and why? 

My favourite style is the Umbro x Nigel Cabourn Cotton Drill Zip Tracktop and Training Pant as they are what Sir Alf Ramsey and the England Team wore in winning the world cup in 1966. 

Your own extensive archive clothing collection is well known. What is your favourite Umbro piece from all time and why? 

The POH drill top with the elastic inserted neck. This is the piece that sticks in my mind the most of what I remember wearing as a young person. Our zip track top and POH top in the new SS22 collection are both based from this style.

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