Words by Leigh Patterson
Photographs Justin Chung

Brian Lee

Los Angeles, CA

Brian Lee
Los Angeles, CA

The more you start seeing through a specific lens, the more themes emerge. One such: good things are hard to find. Sometimes literally — to locate Brian Lee’s vintage showroom, you must first navigate through an inconspicuous garage tucked into a Boyle Heights warehouse. Then, knock on an unmarked door.
A treasure trove awaits: a well-worn World War II-era N1 deck jacket, stenciled with the name of its original owner. A mechanic’s coveralls from the 1950s. Touchingly tattered 1960s Hercules denim chore coats. A 1908 Midwestern farmhouse quilt. This meticulously crammed space is headquarters for Brian’s love of finding and collecting workwear, relics, and stories from the past. It also moonlights as his living space; a repair bench for patching up denim and doing custom fixes; a design studio for his personal collection; and a workshop for tinkering away at his other passion — fixing up old Yamaha motorcycles and classic trucks, including his 1977 International Harvester Scout II and 1978 Yamaha SR500. All told, the space feels part Petri dish and part creative incubator, an homage to specificity and honed obsession.
Brian’s curiosity for collecting started in high school, perusing Pasadena thrift store racks as a teen and realizing there was something rich to discover in secondhand objects and garments if you have the time and persistence to look. And in high school, at a time when a sense of personal identity feels spongy and abstract, he also found comfort in an ability to literally slip on another identity, or invent one in the roomy sleeves of a well-loved garment. “There’s comfort in wearing something that's had a previous life,” he explains. “I don't feel like myself in brand-spanking-new clothes…it just doesn’t fit, it feels like I have something ‘on.’ With garments that have been worn before, I feel like I can slip into a role that’s already been established.”
Today Brian’s knowledge of the vast landscape of vintage feels like second nature, and his fluency in the language of textiles is something to behold; the man could find a pair of 1950s Wrangler Blue Bells in a denim-filled room with his eyes closed. Most recently, he’s started his own line called Harvester, which creates original garments from reimagined vintage wares — either repurposing fabrics too worn for repair or stitching together different era-specific design details in a new way. Named for the former American pickup brand, the namesake doubles as a loose “reap what you sow” metaphor…the idea that vested time, conscious care, and practice will make way for their own version of abundance. As we’re readying to leave, Brian takes a seat next to a giant stack of denim awaiting repair. “You know,” he starts, “rare or not, a vintage garment is ultimately just something that’s been discarded.” A garment can only tell you so much about a moment in time, the original wearer, or what it has witnessed. And yet there’s a particular magic in holding something with the provenance of the past: it brings the black and white blurriness of history into sharp, three-dimensional focus. It helps make sense of the present by hitting us over the head with our shared humanity. We all yearn for lives that add up to something. And whether that’s reflected in a patchwork quilt of our distinct experiences or simply a name written in marker on a tattered clothing tag, they serve as reminders of the same sentiment: Hey, I was here. And for Brian, this is fuel for living.



Full story available in Making Sense Vol. 1 Book

Making Sense is a publication series with Le Labo Fragrances that is a study in distilling life to its essence, as told through the stories of 12 individual who have fearlessly hand-crafted lives of their own making.

Read more about the series here.