Europe is wine, culture, and sophistication and California is basically a year round summer where nobody drinks, but everyone seems to be falling off their barstool. Stylistically, they couldn’t be further apart, but they share at least one thing in common – the menswear brand Old Bull Lee.
Quietly respected for a reason, Old Bull Lee is an edgy small-batch clothing company that imported fabrics from some of the oldest and most well-regarded mills in Europe and then sews things together three miles from the beach in sunny Southern California.
Lee W. Johnson, the founder of Old Bull Lee is an architect by trade, but his family’s roots in textiles run deep, having established Peerless woolen Mills in 1905, which claimed to be the largest single unit mill in the world by the 1950s. On an unusually rainy Saturday in Los Angeles, we had a chance to catch up with Lee. “Up until I started Old Bull Lee, I was an architect, so I thought: houses are hard and clothing is simple, this was going to be easy – I was all ego and elbows. It turns out that the only thing that architecture and clothing share in common is that to get something well made, you have to know what you are doing and possibly see around a few curves. There was some heavy mental lifting those first few years because getting things put together correctly is actually a big part of where the battle is won and lost.”
He also mentioned an odd and interesting thing. One of his Italian suppliers stores their fabric in a cave because the cave’s perfect humidity levels prevent the fibers of the material from becoming stressed. Lee said, “it can be a little hard to know what to think when it comes to the emotional well-being of fabric, but I do know that the type of people that think about things like that on such a deeply organic and granular level are obviously the type of people that I want making my fabrics.”
It seems everything Old Bull Lee makes has a meaningful story behind it. My favorite, a Chinoise linen blend short, printed using the same metal plate technique as banknotes. Some crazy indescribable short made using a pile fabric from a company in Spain that makes flame retardant baby carriage liners. Cotton chamois shirts from a mill located so high in the mountains of Portugal that their delivery truck only makes the drive down to town once a month Toile that tells the story of Robinson Caruso, the family of sewers in his California factory that takes competitive Bible memorization very seriously ….
For guys with big built in swagger who like character and American made quality at less than Gucci prices, Old Bull Lee is the right place to be + you might be wearing fabrics that spent the night in a cave. If you need to look sophisticated while falling off a barstool, this is what you should be doing it in.