Icons: Nigel Cabourn, the Mallory jacket

Update: The Mallory is now also reviewed in my new Outerwear review!

In the third instalment of my series about Icons of menswear I’m revisiting Nigel Cabourn’s work again. The first post dealt with the Cameraman. This time I’ll be looking at the jacket we now know as the Mallory, and we’ll do a some historical digging to look at the background of where the design came from. Today’s Mallory jacket comes in several versions, in Harris Tweed, in cotton canvas and in a jersey material, examples of which are shown here:

tweed malloryMallory canvasJerseyMallory 2

The Harris Tweed versions tend to be the most popular, with the AW12 Crazy Mallory being perhaps the most popular recently. The reasoning behind the “Crazy” moniker is probably quite obvious! A very nice blend of varius tweeds:


The story behind the Mallory jacket, as told in typical Nigel Cabourn style, is as follows: “In 1924 George Mallory set off to climb Everest, dressed in a 3-Piece Military Issue Harris Tweed Suit and a pair of sheepskin boots. He never returned – although it is widely believed he reached the summit – and in 1999 his body was found, preserved in ice. In tribute to this great explorer, Nigel has included the Mallory jacket every season since it first appeared in the original ‘Ascent’ collection.”


Above is the last photo of Mallory and Irvine, taken before they set off on final stretch up to the summit. This was last anyone saw them, although a third member of the party, Noel Odell, a geologist primarily looking for fossils, climbing behind them later gave the following account:”There was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, and the entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.”

And that was all that was all. A number of expeditions attempted to discover what had become of Mallory and Irvine, but it wasn’t until 75 years later that the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition found the remains of George Mallory. The body was remarkably well preserved, due to the mountain’s climate. Mallory lay face-down, arms outstretched as if to break a sliding fall, with one broken leg and a serious wound to the skull, but otherwise very well preserved and relatively uninjured. It seemed probable that he had been a victim of a fall while roped to Irvine. The body was only an hour or two from the safety of their camp.


Also recorded on video:

From a sartorial point of view, it is interesting to see how well his clothing has fared over the 75 years. This has allowed research into the efficiency of 1920’s style mountaineering attire, where it was found that the layering of materials actually gave performance comparable to modern materials. More on his clothing below.

So, history lesson over, back to the matter in hand: The Nigel Cabourn Mallory jacket.

The 2003 ‘Ascent of Cabourn’ book shows what is probably the earliest type of the jacket that is currently called the Mallory. Back then it was simply called the ‘Sherpa jacket’ and later would be renamed the Tenzing jacket as an accolade to Norgay Tenzing in commemoration of his and Sir Edmund Hillarys  successful conquest of Everest during their 1953 that finally reached the summit. More interesting is the apparently authentic old black and white picture showing a sherpa wearing a jacket with the patches that would define this Nigel Cabourn classic. In this early version it still has four pockets like a military jacket that resemble the ones on the Cameraman jacket. These don’t seem to be bellowed, but it is difficult to tell from the rather poor photo.

The clothing Mallory actually wore is rather well documented since his well preserved body was discovered on the slopes of Everest in 1999.900x900px-LL-9ecac5dd_george_mallory_clothing

His clothes were examined, reproduced and used to determine their effectiveness. They were nothing like the Mallory jacket we know and love, but a mix of several layers that provided warmth (wool insulated), manoeuvrability (silk reduced friction between layers and a special pivoting construction of the underarm seam allowed a great range of overhead movement) and resistance against wind chill (tightly woven cotton gabardine was quite wind proof).

For some great information get this pdf: furtech.typepad.com/links/files/Everest.pdf

An image of mountaineers testing replica 1924 Everest expedition outfits (quite dashing, you’ll agree).


The Nigel Cabourn jacket does however somewhat resemble a jacket Mallory is seen wearing here on his less challenging climbs in Wales.


So, this gives us an indication of the origins of the style. As mentioned above, the jacket has change from being the “Sherpa Jacket”, to the Tenzing, and on to being the “Mallory”.

The transition from Tenzing to Mallory included a slight change in the placement of the buttons and pockets.


Initial versions were also in canvas, with a metal throat latch. More commonly now the AW variants are in desirable Harris Tweed and Ventile, where matching Mallory waistcoats are also available. The SS versions are still in canvas or more recently in a jersey material, with patches in Ventile. As with the cameraman, the variants of Harris Tweed vary from season to season, both in colour and in pattern. Ventile is only usually produced in a limited colour range, so that tends to vary less.


The 2003 ‘Ascent of Cabourn’ book includes a photo of a Sherpa with a jacket with Kevlar patches (obviously to ensure the jacket would stand up to lugging mountaineering gear for brave explorers). This  is the most important source photo – its sort of a Tibetan donkey jacket with Kevlar instead of leather.

 sherpa patches

Apparently the Tenzing jacket never appeared in the form in the book – the 99 garments made for the 2003 collection were exactly as the Tenzing on Cabourn’s web page or the same as Manufactum sell today (below).The one from AW09 has satin lining in the sleeves.


Finally, the AW13 version of the Crazy Mallory (photos courtesy of End Clothing):



Also worth mentioning that the source photo in the book has the kevlar coming over the shoulder seam on the arm just as the Tenzing and Mallory do now with the Ventile, whereas the first sample doesn’t do this. We can only guess that Nigel was unhappy with the first design and that it wasn’t near enough to the source photo or original enough as plenty of shooting jackets have just a contrast shoulder.

Plus putting a Ventile patch on the arm near the shoulder seam is quite tricky to do right. so it may be that the original manufacturer couldn’t do it successfully or didn’t want to do it and so in Nigel’s quest for originality and perfection went back to the drawing board prior to the release of the collection.

Update: The Mallory is now also reviewed in my new Outerwear review!

If the story of George Mallorys has captured your interest (and how could it not?), I can heartily recommend this book about his endeavours:


You might also like to read about the Nigel Cabourn Cameraman! And two examples of the Mallory Waistcoat and Mallory Waistcoat in Waistcoat Wednesday.


Thanks to Rob Noordhoek and Stewart J Simon for help with this piece!

Enhanced by Zemanta

13 Responses to “Icons: Nigel Cabourn, the Mallory jacket”

  1. Steve

    Great write up! I really like the jacket in all its forms, even if it was never actually worn by Mallory 🙂
    Also, thanks for the book recommendation, it’s amazing; I mostly enjoyed reading about the connection between the men’s WWI experience and hiking/traveling/exploring after the war.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: