Stepping through a set of wooden gates into a traditional, English garden, and finding a stone path curl past leafy, lush borders to a converted gardeners building, the last thing you expect to find is a fashion designer. But the setting could not be more appropriate for Nigel Cabourn, a very British designer who’s work and inspiration is a far cry from the metropolitan hub of most fashion capitals. Now in his 60′s, with a design career spanning 40 years, he is arguably working at the height of his career, designing high-end collections sold in the world’s most influential stores.
It was mid 20th Century pop culture, specifically it’s music and lifestyle, that once served as a springboard for Cabourn’s original foray into design in the late 1960’s. His love of artists like Procul Harum, Marvin Gaye and The Small Faces saw him designing loon pants and beginning his Cricket clothing line in 1970.
But times have changed for Cabourn. The temporal whimsies of fashion trends now pass the designer by, as he happily does them in return. Cabourn actually put his business on hiatus in 2001, only recently returning to design his eponymous line following the decision to design purely what he wanted and at the highest end of the market possible.
His vintage clothing archive has become renowned- it totals more than 4,000 rare pieces. It is these garments that form the root of what he strives to perfect: the development of bygone garments, who’s original combinations of form, fabric and function are so originally perfect, his revival of them, act more as celebrations than interpretations.
He works on two lines, one made in Japan, the other made in the UK as much as is possible. He passionately believes in sourcing British manufacturers, and working from vintage British clothing. His father served in the military and his journals from the Second World War have formed the basis for a recent collection. Today he zips round his studio in search of a prototype cricket jumper to give to his Uncle for his 90-something birthday.
In his bright, airy studio there is a rail of garments, dangling off meat hooks, catching the sun; Nigel buzzes over each piece with a charming, positive energy. He loves the fabrication of a Japanese overcoat with displaced pockets from world war one, and has sourced an inventive jeep jacket- lined with sheepskin, the pockets are fitted with glove like hand warmers- he enthuses with his team over the idea of recreating the piece in Harris tweed.
The next collection, for A/W 2011, will be themed around World War 1 pieces, and these are recent acquisitions that will form it’s template. He urges me to handle a swatch of cotton dating from 1905 that he recently tracked down in Berlin, noting you would no longer find a fabric that feels the same and this swatch will likely be reproduced by a Japanese mill he works closely with. Indeed, it’s mixture of weight and texture means it feels quite unusual.
Despite his fervent attention to detail, Cabourn’s work is not overwhelming purist; perhaps his background in design draws his work out of the nostalgic and niche reproduction market, and into a territory that is fresh and contemporary. A hooded jacket from the SS11 collection is actually cut from a dapper pink gingham shirting but coated with waterproof beeswax to make it light, crisp and entirely appropriate for a modern British summer.