“I wasn’t supposed to be a designer”— that’s how my conversation with Lee starts at his Shoreditch studio, which is as immaculate as the signature haircut he’s sporting.
A professional child actor, Lee was destined for an acting career, despite his passion for design; first discovered when his father— a practicing artist — taught him to draw. If it wasn’t for a fashion design competition organised by Lloyds Bank, he would have probably never pursued the design path.
The competition brief? To choose any celebrity and design an outfit for them that they could wear when visiting their bank manager. Lee’s response? Madonna, of course; wearing a leotard embellished with rhinestones. The result? Lee winning the competition at 17, but not only that. With Vivienne Westwood being one of the competition judges and attending the awards ceremony, Lee had to ask for her autograph. What he got in return was Vivienne’s signature, her phone number and an invitation to visit her studio.
This encounter resulted in Lee becoming an intern at Vivienne Westwood for 10 months, gaining essential qualifications along the way and eventually enrolling at world-renowned Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design to study fashion — which he loved.
You might think that was the moment when Lee’s career was destined for fashion design. But before he knew it, Lee started to make extra money whilst at university doing interior projects; designing soft furnishing, furniture and whole spaces of London’s bars and restaurants. One such commission ended up with him and his best friend Maki designing Nylon, a hip bar which became widely popular as soon as it opened; putting Lee’s and Maki’s design in the spotlight.
Following the success of this project, the two friends formed a design studio, MakiLee. It was a wonderful four-year collaboration, which ended when Maki decided to return to Japan — her home country. That’s when Lee had set up his own brand and how Lee Broom — the business — was born. Interior design jobs kept fuelling the cash flow of the young company, whilst Lee started to spread his multi-disciplinary wings into product design.
Finally, at this point in Lee’s career, you could say that ‘the rest is history’. The milestone moment for his eponymous business came in 2012 with the brand’s first presence at the renowned Milan Design Week; displaying the Crystal Lightbulb — one of Lee’s most popular designs — with 30,000 hand-crafted units sold to date. Was it in the pipeline for long? Hardly, Lee dreamt about it two months before the Milanese exhibition. Within eight weeks — without hesitation — he turned the Crystal Lightbulb from a dream into a spectacular product launch. Its success also propelled the studio to shift its focus from bespoke pieces to the collections of stock items, available for both trade and consumers alike.
Throughout our conversation it’s evident that Lee loves to design and bring his dreams to life, infusing his products with an honest authenticity. He’s fascinated by the idea of creating classic pieces with a modern spin that evoke emotion and have a beautiful familiarity about them. He also believes that designers have a responsibility to create pieces which are not only aesthetically pleasing but will also stand the test of time and appear in the antique stores of the future.
What’s Lee’s dream project? There are three; his own house, an immersive concert stage, and the interior of an aeroplane —maybe a future MilanJet celebrating the 20th anniversary of Lee Broom?