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Sam Hill

The Texas clothing collection showroom specializes in fine menswear from yesteryear. Meet a young guy passionate about vintage, a place where "history, science and fashion" meet.

Interview By John Dugan, June 10, 2013

Photos by Michael A. Muller and Bill Sallans

We'd heard a lot of great things about a young guy named Kyle Muller and Sam Hill, his pop-up shop of vintage menswear and accesories in the Austin area. We thought it would be interesting to talk to an up and comer before he's opened his retail shop and made a big splash. In the meantime, Sam Hill has just opened a showroom in Austin, and it looks like things are taking off for 30-year-old fashion digger Muller.

Nothing Major: How did you get into vintage menswear?
Kyle Muller: My love for vintage items started at a young age when I first started visiting flea markets and garage sales. I have always been a collector of antiques and treasure, but I didn’t discover the clothing aspect until my teenage years. I began going to thrift stores around the same time I became more aware of clothing and popularity. It was a great to find something unique and wear a garment no one else had. It was fun having my own style but I soon became addicted to the hunt. Over the years it developed into a passion to uncover rare pieces you really have to dig for.  

While living in New York, I was lucky enough to visit a few amazing vintage collections and showrooms. It was my first introduction to vintage clothing at the highest level. It totally changed my way of thinking. At the pinnacle of vintage clothing is a point where history, science and fashion collide. This was an exciting discovery, which inspired the creation of my own store.

You did a Summer Collection. How does that work for vintage? What are you excited about this summer?
Every season I curate one or two collections with a particular style. When traveling on clothing runs I never know what I’m going to dig up… flexibility is the key. There is always a broad idea or concept I envision behind each buying trip, but collections ultimately take shape once I’m back home and see everything laid out. 

My first summer concept I am launching is called the “Costa Collection.” I found a beautiful Central American style rug, which inspired the collection. From there I built a theme around the color pallet and pulled similar fabrics. Since every vintage piece is one-of-a-kind it’s important for me to separate the garments into a cohesive theme in order to tell their story. 

I am super excited this summer about swimwear and vintage surf/skate culture. I am hunting for a lot of brands that shaped my childhood, growing up in southern California in the early '80s.  I have even made a little concrete mini ramp outside my new showroom. The summer of Sam Hill is in full effect.


What kind of accessories are you carrying?
The accessories I carry range from vintage magazines to buck knives. Some new accessories include; leather bags, vintage bandanas, pocket knives, leather bracelets, rings, belts, vintage Ray Bans, dominoes, playing cards and more. 

Every week I am adding new treasures to the collection!


Why do you think more guys are taking their clothing more seriously these days?
I don’t think guys are taking clothing more serious… I think that technology has offered more choices.  

Technology has made information more accessible and created more intelligent consumer. People are becoming highly sensitive to what they wear. After years of overproduction, shopping malls, fast-fashion and over stimulation, people want something with sustenance. 

For the first time in history a guy in the middle of rural Texas can watch fashion show in Milan, buy a shirt from a boutique in New York or find an old pair of Red Wings like his dad used to wear, at the click of a button.

Do you go on digging trips? How much time are you putting into acquiring stock?
I go on my long clothing runs about once every two months and dig around central Texas every weekend. My longer trips usually last three days with lots of driving and several stops. I usually return home with around 300 new pieces. 

Any interesting anecdotes about meeting people while digging for threads?
Oh man… some you wouldn’t even believe. I was thinking someone should follow me on a clothing run and make a reality TV show… weird stuff happens when you are open to it, and my doors are wide open.

After buying some clothes from a guy he took me to the local bar, where he kept buying me beers, round after round. He liked me I guess and was trying to convince me to marry his sister. I ended up driving him to his house with a mariachi band where we serenaded his wife on the porch. He was having the time of his life, while we passed around a tequila bottle and yelled profanities into the night. That was interesting.

Kyle Muller of Sam Hill

Another encounter along the road: I was driving through the small town of Stonewall, Texas, and pulled over to check out a yard sale on the side of the road. There was a weathered cowboy with a mustache sitting on the front porch surrounded by old tools, piles of clothes, and rusted machinery. It seemed like his property was a 24/7 yard sale and once I introduced myself he really got to talking. He told me stories about growing up in rural Texas in the '40s and delighted me with stories of being a paratrooper in the Korean War. He lied about his age to get into the military and showed me shrapnel scars that were responsible for his limp. Underneath about five heavy gold chains (which rested around his neck) was another scar. The doctors dug in to remove a piece of shrapnel but it was too close to his heart. The piece of shrapnel was still in him! He said it was his souvenir from the war.

The tanned cowboy had worked on the LBJ Ranch and National Historic Park for thirty-five years, as caretaker for the “Texas Whitehouse,” where he renovated and maintained the building. He went on for at least an hour naming all the plants and animals he had seen on the ranch throughout his career and showed me around his property. My favorite part of the tour was his homemade 6x10-foot cage that housed his two prized cats. He kept them in there because he didn’t want them to get run over on the nearby highway. He had made toys and a little house for the cats inside the cage… he loved those cats!

I left his house with a trunk full of antique tools, work shirts, and a deer skull (which he found on the ranch… he made it clear he would never hurt any animal). This guy was a true Texas legend and I could have listened to him talk about anything for days. 

Are there any vintage labels you think deserve more respect?
Maybe not more respect, but I am always impressed with Arrow. They started making men’s shirts in the late 1800s, and they always seem to have a great fit.  Whenever I find a dress shirt I really like, nine times out of ten, it’s an Arrow.

Why was the mid-century a good time for American clothing?
During the mid-century most of the clothing was manufactured in the U.S.A. Ready-to-wear clothing was booming and labor unions were constructing garments with quality and care. America had developed its own unique style and it was personified through Hollywood icons. This was a new post WWII era and a time when function determined fashion.  

Sam Hill is online only. Have you done pop-ups? Any plans for a brick and mortar shop?
As far as pop-ups, I have being setting up shop once or twice a month around the Austin area. I have three lined up for the summer season. It would be fun to do some traveling pop-ups and hit some larger cities but it takes a great deal of resources.

Sam Hill has a brand new showroom space in Austin, Texas!

It acts as a work/showroom space and is currently open by appointment only. I plan on having some amazing summer events and a pool party is in the works for July! 

Within the next year I plan to have a retail space that will be open regular business hours… I have a lot of goals and big plans for the future!

Are you in this for the long haul or is it more of a sideline you are passionate about?
I quit my day job five months ago to pursue and build my vision of Sam Hill. It’s a difficult business and defiantly not a get rich quick scheme… I am fueled by my love for vintage clothing and preserving American style. Yes, I am in this for as long as I can be. 

Visit samhillstore.com to shop online and to arrange an appointment.