Rex Cauble’s chain of Cutter Bill stores made a huge mark in the Western apparel and fashion industry.
Today, one only needs to start scrolling through their Instagram feed to find any and all kinds of Western oriented apparel, gear and shiny objects, made by everything from mega companies to one-maker work benches.
The era of the destination Western store that for years defined the genre is not over, but it (like everything else in retail) is being impacted by specialty websites. It wasn’t always that way. Not long ago high-end Western wear and saddlery had some pretty stellar locations around the country. Think Falconhead in West Los Angeles; Billy Martin’s in New York; Out of Santa Fe in Newport Beach and so many others that defined the 1970s through the end of the century.
To be fair, there are still a number of wonderful high-end stores going today, and they are still a treat to visit in person and online. But no matter the store—then or now—they all owe a lot to a Texas cowboy named Rex Cauble and his Cutter Bill Western World, high-end concept stores that would ultimately help define the market.
The first one opened in the late 1960s in Houston, Texas, on Westheimer, a prestigious business area. The store was located in an old bank building and had an impressive storefront. The name of the store came from Cauble’s famous Quarter Horse stallion, a golden palomino, named Cutter Bill. He and his wife, Josephine had bid $2,500 for the horse in a Wichita Falls auction in 1956. Cauble broke Cutter Bill himself and went on to a number of big wins in the cutting horse game. Cauble was a self-made millionaire in grand Texas style and knew his store could work in Houston. After all, the Houston Livestock Show was there and brought in thousands of folks each year. Plus, plenty of horse-types lived in the surrounding area.
The store would make its reputation selling unusual and one-of-a-kind Western items along with high-end boots, hats, jeans, shirts and accessories. Along with the store’s managers, John Mallow and John Pearce, who were two seasoned retail businessmen, they brought in attractive helpers to assist customers and offer cocktails to enhance their shopping pleasure. Mallow and Pearce, both enthusiastic about creating a new retail experience for their customers, went to traditional men’s and women’s wear manufacturers and convinced them to create unique, high-fashion, Western wear.
As the story goes, store managers would come and go due to Cauble’s rather fiery temper. Frankly if the Cutter Bill Western World story were around today, it would be a glorious reality show. But the real genius of Cauble’s Cutter Bill stores was the marketing outreach they did with their catalogs. The Cutter Bill catalog was aspirational and conceptual in its presentation and opened the doors to what came to be called, “the Western-lifestyle industry.” It was a new model in Western fashion that was no feed store, but rather a luxurious retailer inhabited by super model-esque, cowgirl femmes and chiseled, handsome urban Marlboro-types just stepping off their private planes looking for their next pair of unborn-albino-antelope boots.
From the early 1970s to 1985, Cutter Bill’s Western World was the West’s Neiman Marcus and in a nod to the Dallas-based, luxury department store’s annual Christmas catalog (started by Stanley Marcus in 1952). Cauble’s Cutter Bill catalog was designed to be the ultimate cowboy wish book.
Unlike Neiman Marcus’s catalog, which offered high profile gifts like his and her Rolls Royce vehicles or a sterling silver barbeque cart, the Cutter Bill catalog offered luxury outfits, hand-crafted saddles and boots along with every accessory the store’s high-end customer could want. In its own way the Cutter Bill catalog helped create the luxury Western business that went beyond the core working cowboy customer who needed one good white shirt or a bench-made pair of boots that took a year’s wages to save for.
Rex Cauble was a marketer, beyond everything else, and worked tirelessly to keep his store, and himself, in the public eye. In a sense, he helped Texas continue its popular, larger-than-life image. (Think “Dallas,” and “Urban Cowboy.”)
The party lasted for Rex Cauble until 1978 when the cowboy entrepreneur was indicted under suspicion of funding what was ultimately called Texas’ largest marijuana smuggling business—a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute (RICO). And although he continually declared his innocence, he served five years, and was released on good behavior in 1987, two years after his Cutter Bill stores had closed. Cauble went on to try and open a new Cutter Bill in Jacksboro, Texas, but was never able to make it work, as his past kept catching up with him. In 2003, he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease while in an assisted living facility in Durant, Oklahoma.
To the end, Cauble believed in himself and his benchmark contribution of the Cutter Bill Western World concept and catalog that changed forever the way the West was worn and shopped.