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portrait of Nigel Cabourn-Mayfield

Element Wolfeboro by Nigel Cabourn

In the Outdoor Apparel  Industry, very few people are able to reach ‘legend’ status, however, one designer who ranks high on this list is Nigel Cabourn. For forty years, Cabourn has sourced thousands of marine, army and climbing vintage clothing from the archives, adding his perfect knowledge of fabrics to create his collections. From his ateliers in Newcastle to the busy streets of Tokyo, the Englishman delivers a contemporary interpretation of those statement pieces he has been dearly collecting. Cabourn has, once again, chosen Element for his latest collaboration. “I’ve been working with Ray Gauthier for 20 years now. He’s got a lot of energy and I’ve got a lot of time for him. This is my fourth collection with Element and I really like it because it’s nice to rely on people I’m comfortable working with. With the Element collaborations, it’s more of a concept (than a collection) every season. This last collection reminds me of Aspen in the year 2000 when I was there skiing and I was looking off to go on the dog sleds. I managed to pick up one vintage piece from a guy who was there, and that vintage piece happened to be 30 years old when he had it, and I bought it off his back. That was really the starting point for this.”

Element x Cabourn campaign - model stands in tall grasses
Element x Cabourn campaign - model walks with back to viewer showing a bear graphic shirt
Element x Cabourn campaign - model stands in grass next to stone fence and ladder

Indeed, you can tell that Nigel Cabourn is all about an outdoor lifestyle. You can also tell from his Instagram account that he is used to travelling all year round: from Australia to Japan and Los Angeles. Everywhere he goes, he finds ‘new’ vintage items to add to his unique collection which now consists of 4000 pieces – sourcing from 1910 to 1980. “I started through being friends with Paul Smith, he used to work for me in the 70s and he got me into vintage. I started the business in 1970 when I was straight out of college. My philosophy was very much inspired by the Vietnam war, the flower power movement, and all the student revolution and British and American pop music. So, if you put that all together from 1967 to 1971 then you get a good heritage. It’s not by chance that I’m a vintage guy, it’s a way of life with me.” Nigel Cabourn is also very close to Japan and Japanese culture, travelling there at least four times a year, “I’m doing great in Japan because they like all sorts of crazy things. Not that I’m crazy, you can’t be crazy anymore when you’re 71 [laughing]. The reality of it is that I started the business in Japan in 1981 and it did very much connect with the Japanese–they loved the brand and British design. I met many Japanese people in those early days and within a couple of years of meeting them, the first Cabourn shop came around in Tokyo.”     

“You always need a concept, you always need a hook.”

When asked about what attracted him to vintage clothing, the answer is simple: “My lifestyle is all about the fabric. I’m passionate about WWI, WWII, and the British exploration lifestyle which captures Antarctica and Everest with George Mallory from 1921 to 1924 and it is also inspired by Scott going across Antarctica in 1930. Vietnam in the 1960s inspired me for the very first concept with Element– the one Liam Gallagher bought into. I didn’t gift Gallagher any of the jackets, he actually bought them in NYC so, that was just by chance and it made a huge difference for us last season.” 

Element’s ‘Wolfboro’ By Nigel Cabourn pays tribute to the designer’s story and his never-ending quest that elevated him to this high rank of a legend in the industry. Inspired by his personal vintage collection, one of the largest in the world, this new collaboration with Element presents outerwear specifically created to endure the toughest conditions, while being an ode to North American wide-open spaces. To respect the nature from which it draws its inspiration, ‘Wolfeboro’ by Nigel Cabourn is also the result of fabric innovations such as Repreve®: a revolutionary fibre woven from recycled water bottles. “Element is very much into sustainable fabrics; all the collection is made from sustainable material. I’m into using another kind of sustainable fabric, like second world war fabric that is sustainable in the fact that when I make a Cabourn garment you can pass it on to your children and it will last forever. This is a different type of sustainability with Element. I have to work in very tight parameters. I have a lot of support from the Element team as I’m telling them the fabric I want and they end up doing their best to create it. I don’t have total control over the fabrics but I’m so happy with the finished pieces.” Cabourn says that he met the original founder of Element early before their first collaboration, “and I always think about him when I’m doing these collections because he’s an outdoorsy American guy and he’s an old skater as well.” Everything is a matter of mixing the legacy of a legendary brand with innovations.

In 1992, a group of young professional skaters decided to rethink the industry to abolish frontiers between skate, nature and culture: Element was born and with it, values that are still at the very centre of each new collection. Just as skateboards brought people to think outside the box, Element builds towards a sustainable alternative, in line with nature, to move towards a more positive direction. From the brand’s origin on the street to its future in nature, “I wanted to keep those roots. This is where the polar bears and Alaska come into it. When I did the first collaboration I based it very much on the Vietnam War in the 1960s and the US Marine corps. I always need a hook like this and off I go. You always need a concept, you always need a hook.” The outerwear brand and Nigel Cabourn are not done collaborating yet, as another collection is already in the works for next season. “Next year there will be a lot of camouflage, actually. It’s going back to older Cabourn collections from the ’80s. It’s a totally different concept, with less military details, and more about the outback and the cold.”

Words by Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle

Photos provided by Nigel Cabourn

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