Enter Nigel Cabourn, the Northern English cult designer, whose life’s work has been devoted to perfecting that innately British sense of dressing for the outdoors, and it was a match made in heaven. The partnership between Cabourn and Peak Performance was a natural—two experts in the performance wear field of fashion, designing clothes on the same chilly latitudes, for people on those same chilly latitudes, only a sea apart. But as Cabourn and Sofia Gromark Norinder, Peak Performance’s Head of Urban Design, would soon realise the cultural differences between Northern England and Sweden were greater than expected.
They used them to their advantages, fusing Cabourn’s British point of departure and expertise in global army apparel with Peak Performance’s unique Scandinavian outlook and proficiency in the innovative fabrication of ski and outerwear, creating a collection rooted in Swedish military wear for the contemporary urban dresser. For Cabourn, who founded his label over forty years ago and has spent a lifetime collecting an archive of military and outdoor wear from around the world, working with Peak Performance was an eye-opener into the craft and quality the brand stands for. For Gromark Norinder, his junior by decades, collaborating with Cabourn was an exercise in a more artisanal approach to the area of fashion Peak Performance has mastered for 30 years. The two designers got together for a conversation about their collection.
First things first: how would you define this collection?
Nigel Cabourn: Key to me in collaborations is to respect both brands. Pick the best of both companies. It wants to look fifty percent Peak Performance and fifty percent Cabourn.
Sofia Gromark Norinder: Nigel and I both have a passion for craftmanship and innovation. Our uniqnessness lies in mixing our skills but also our strong belive in the fututre. We use the past to look forward and agreed on a concept in the early stages of the process: The Swedish mountain troops. Sweden hasent been in many wars but we had some great army wear for the mountains.
How did your differences as designers manifest themselves?
Sofia: It’s obvious I am a woman and Nigel is a man. He has twice the experience in this business than I, and I have long thick red hair he has no hair at all. I have my education from Paris and New York, he got his in London, but we are both very tactile and love fabrics from our hearts. We are both looking into our own stories, Nigel with his dad as a military man, and me with my grandmother, who was a textile designer and seamstress.
Sofia: Military items are pared down to emphasise versatility as problem-solving clothes, and mirror the comfort with technology. This collection features siluettes and technical solutions you will regognize but the materials are light weight, seamsealed for waterprofness and breathable for high intense activities.
Nigel: Im an outerwear specialist drawing on British history. I always had an interest in all the military—British army, British navy, Royal Air Force. That’s obviously my preference because I’m British But it was the Swedish ski patrols manning the mountains, which really interested me. That’s what we’ve used at the source of inspiration to do the collaboration on.
What military pieces did you look at?
Nigel: There’s an incredible white sheepskin coat, with canvas pockets which the ski patrol was wearing that I’ve actually collected a long time ago with a few other Swedish pieces. The Swedish skiing coats were a bit like what the Americans had with the Tenth Mountain Division. They wore a piece of outerwear with a full working rucksack in the back of the jacket. I’ve been able to use that detail and bring it into the Swedish army reference. It’s a waterproof camouflage fabric.
How do these army references translate into a modern urban uniform?
Nigel: It’s really lifestyle. You’ve got the right sweatshirt, the right piece of knitwear, the right pant. I’ve also done a mountain pant but you can still wear it with a pair of sneakers and look really cool in the city. And that’s the whole way that I’ve designed this collection. It does the skiing, and it does the coming-off-the-slope as well.
How well did you know Peak Performance prior to the collaboration, Nigel?
Nigel: I knew about them years ago, when they still had the Indian as their logo. When I went to see them for the first time they showed me the heritage book and I was really quite reminded of it. They’ve also got a long history – they’ve been at it 30 years – and they understand good quality and real clothing. I think we cross over quite a lot.
What was your impression this time around?
Nigel: They are great. I’ve done a lot of collaborations, but Peak Performance is probably the most professional one I’ve ever done. The people are great. They’ve taken it very seriously. It’s not low-key—they’ve got everybody involved. A big crew. It’s the first collaboration they’ve ever done, in 30 years.
What was Nigel like to work with?
Sofia: He is a legend and a total nerd, and a fantastic specialist and person; energetic and demanding but very loving at the same time. Nigel has a very strong passion about the product. He has a very young soul and personality. He is a ‘young old man’, and you have to be careful and show respect! I had to have a great bunch of female finesse. He believes he got what he wanted and I got exactly as I wanted! But it’s not about who came up with what idea in a collaboration, it’s about the teamwork. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Did he tell you anything memorable?
Sofia: “It’s a labour of love.” It was his philosophy and incentive and driving force in creating an immortal product.
What about Nigel’s personal style?
Sofia: He has founded his uniform. He has a strong continuous trademark in his characteristic pieces like the pompom beanie and the dungarees: a daring silhouette of today that never changes. It is distinctly him, and he is interested in youth culture and loves young people and their energy and attitude. His clothes look cool on young people and make the wearer look cooler, more interesting. You become a better you.
Nigel: I just wear what I feel like wearing. I wear dungarees all the time, so we’ve done some dungarees totally filled with down and completely snake quilted. You just mix what looks, really. I’ve got 4000 vintage pieces, which have taken me forty years to collect. Everything I buy is for function. I still don’t wear fitted clothing—it’s comfort first, for me, and I’ve put that into the collaboration. The Swedes tend to like things very well-fitted.
Why do you think fashion is focused on performance and military wear now?
Nigel: I think it’s practicality. People don’t want to just look good. If you go to Stockholm, people are bringing sport into their lifestyle.
What makes Peak Performance and Nigel Cabourn the perfect couple?
Sofia: It is a win/win situation. We respect each other’s knowledge and bring new life into it. It’s about remembering the past in order to re-imagine the future. It’s the powerful contrast between the crafted and the technical.