If you can get to Los Angeles, LeatherSoul and The Armoury are hosting a screening of O’Mast, the documentary film about the culture and tailoring of Naples. The screening starts at 8pm, and afterwards there will be a Q&A with the director, as well as a cocktail reception. I strongly recommend going, if you can make it. It’s a chance to see a great film and enjoy a nice social event!
Excellent advice below from Ethan Desu. Although Ethan noted it, it’s worth emphasizing that grey trousers, blue jackets, and brown suede shoes don’t have to be reduced to a uniform. There are a near infinite number of possibilities once you consider the different shades of blue, grey, and brown; the different weaves fabrics come in (e.g. flannel, nailhead, tropical wool); and the various styles clothes can be made into (e.g. single vs. double breasted, oxford shoes vs. derbies, pleated vs. plain front, etc).
Add in the task of buying things in the best materials and construction you can afford, and focusing on fit (can’t be emphasized enough), and you have at least one sure-fire way of looking smart.
Alan and I have a long running joke - and like most jokes it is firmly rooted in a real desire to do so - that we should open a new store where we only sell variations of grey trousers, blue jackets and brown suede shoes.
I am, as I write this, in light grey Crispaire trousers from Ambrosi, a Dormeuil Tonik jacket in a vibrant junior navy, made by Liverano, and rich mid brown suede oxfords from Saint Crispin’s. While for many, a grey suit is their comfort clothes to face any situation in, for me this is it.
The beauty of this combination for me is that it can be a louche and effortless as jeans and a white tee, or as proper as a double breasted. With dark flannels and a rich navy twill, it has stroller like formality, but in a light grey fresco, blue linen and snuff suede sans socks it is perfect weekend dinner attire in the summer. The number of variations I have of this very combo is telling.
Who knows, maybe there is a pop-up concept in there - a new uniform for The Armoury.
Brown Suede Split Toes by Koji Suzuki for Spigola
Snuff Suede Single Monks by Carmina
Ethan Desu recently took some wonderful photos of his colleagues at The Armoury and they reminded me of a post I wrote last month. Here we see his colleagues wearing buff-colored ties against their soft brown and grey suits. The color is more unique than your standard navy, brown, and burgundies, so they help attract just a little more attention. However, everything harmonizes quite well. Nothing stands out too loudly on its own and everything is pulled together very elegantly. As a result of having a slightly more unique tie set along gentle and conservative ensembles, the men here look a bit more rakish but still remain tasteful.
What a wonderful color for a tie.
Photo credit: Ethan Desu
O’Mast Screening and DVD
O’Mast will be having its first screening this Wednesday, November 30th, at New York University’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò. The building is located at 24 West 12th Street in New York City. The event starts at 6 PM and seating is on a first come, first serve basis. I recommend getting there a little bit early.
The director of the film, Gianluca Migliarotti, will be in attendance, as will Mark Cho of The Armoury and Drake’s. I’ve been told that The Armoury will be the exclusive retailer for the DVD, and that it will be available for Christmas delivery.
* Special thanks to Gianluca Migliarotti for cutting the above teaser clip for us. Mr. Migliarotti will be working with Jesse and the team in Milan for Season Two of Put This On’s video series, so be on the watch for that!
The Color Purple
Most men rely on standard colors for their wardrobe - blues, greys, and browns, in various shades and textures. These are good foundational colors since they’re easy to wear and complement each other well. However, only relying on these colors get a bit boring, and eventually cease to excite the eye. As such, it’s good to have a few secondary colors in your wardrobe just to break things up a bit. Salmon pink, hunter green, and bordeaux are all very nice, but today I’ll talk about purple.
Purple can make a statement since it’s a unique color. However, it’s so closely related to blue that it can also feel familiar and sophisticated. Purple is also much more versatile than men give it credit for. It complements many of the standard colors men wear and serves a good substitute for blue. For example, a dark, deep purple tie goes well with a tan jacket and light blue shirt, and can be used any time you would otherwise wear a navy tie (though the conservativeness of navy can make it more useful).
I also recommend purple socks. Michael Drake, co-founder of Drake’s of London, wears them as a personal signature of eccentricity. This past summer, I often wore purple socks with light blue shirts and pants in either a grey tropical wool or tan linen (first picture above). I’ve found that this ensemble goes especially well with brown suede shoes.
Hardy Amies once said of purple, “I can see no use for this handsome, not unmasculine colour except for ties, socks and handkerchiefs.” I, however, think it can be used for more than accessories. For example, lavender shirts go quite well underneath navy or tan suits. You can pair it with a conservative, charcoal tie, and then have a secondary color in the tie pick up the lavender in your shirt or the color of your suit. This practice seems to be common in Moscow. From my observation, one in six men here on the street will be wearing a lavender shirt, and it always looks good (assuming the shirt fits well).
The standard palette of grey, brown, and blue is a nice foundation, but don’t neglect to have some secondary colors here or there. Purple works with a number of colors and wearing it well can add variety into your wardrobe. Just don’t overdo it. Wearing too much of it will make you look like Barney, and doing things such as matching purple socks to purple ties will make you look too studied. Purple, in my opinion, should be worn with a healthy dose of nonchalance.
The Wall Street Journal published an interview some time ago with Michael Drake, the co-founder of Drake’s of London. In the story, there was a surprising paragraph:
Last year, Mr. Drake, who learned the trade at British luxury label Aquascutum, sold the company for an undisclosed price to the Armoury, a Hong Kong menswear retailer. The team he trained remains, but his contract expired at the end of July.
The news caused quite a buzz among menswear enthusiasts, so I thought I’d contact Mark Cho, a co-founder of The Armoury, to talk about the purchase and future of both companies.
Derek Guy: What was your rationale for buying Drake’s? It’s not common for a retailer to purchase a maker, and it’s especially surprising since The Armoury is a relatively young company and has been working in a tough economic climate. How did this decision come about?
Mark Cho: Firstly, it needs to be made clear that The Armoury did not purchase Drake’s, they are simply both owned by the same people. The Armoury has no control over Drake’s and they remain completely separate businesses. Secondly, the acquisition of Drake’s occurred over a year ago in July 2010, we chose to keep quiet about it for various reasons that I will go into later.
I was presented with the opportunity to take over Drake’s by Michael Hill, Michael Drake’s right hand man at the time. While I had a lot of respect for Drake’s as a company, I had a few key requirements: continuity and further development of the aesthetic, mature in-house production in the UK (and preferably London) and competent management. In Michael Hill, I could see a designer who was passionate about his brand, his work and his mentor. I had known the premises and factory operations of Drake’s from before and as I got to know the management and the people working within the company, I felt that this was an excellent opportunity. I think in turn, Michael Drake and the old shareholders also felt that Michael Hill, the remaining directors of the company and I could take the company forward credibly and keep the brand intact.
Furthermore, there is some synergy between Drake’s and The Armoury. The Armoury provides useful retail experience, greater exposure for Drake’s in HK/China and it showcases the products appropriately. Drake’s is a reliable supplier to The Armoury and can provide some special items from time to time.
We kept the change of ownership under wraps for a year because we wanted to be able to put a full year’s worth of work under our belts without having our progress prejudiced by any preconceptions of what a change of ownership might do. Inevitably, some people will believe the product has changed because Drake’s changed hands but there has been no changes made whatsoever to our cloths, raw materials or methods of production. I think we did ok these last 12 months: business has been good, the new collections have been well received, the production has been slightly improved, and we opened up a retail store and refined our online store.
DG: Drake’s is a luxury-end brand and I imagine the profit margins aren’t as big as those of many other tie companies. For example, mid-market ties manufactured in China will only cost about $5 a piece, but sell for about $50 in department stores. With Drake’s, however, you have to keep the quality to the highest standard because that’s what people are coming for. How has the brand been doing in the last few years, given this global recession?
MC: Drake’s has been a stable, steadily growing business for the last 30 years. We have a bit of trouble keeping up with demand these days so we spent last year upgrading production, improving our facilities and training some extra staff for the workroom. They are all fairly incremental changes but it means we can increase production without compromising quality. I have no intention of moving production. I was born and raised in London and it is extremely satisfying to be able to support manufacturing in London. As I have said before when asked about The Armoury, I believe in “authentic” products and I think a lot of the charm of our products comes from being designed and made in Clerkenwell. While we may not all necessarily be English, we certainly all feel like Londoners with a certain loyalty to the city and the culture. I think it definitely influences the aesthetic, quality, presentation and so on of Drake’s. Given how loyal our customers are to our aesthetic and quality, why would we ever mess around with that?
DG: Drake’s just opened up a retail location. Have you been in talks with the company before this opening? If so, was there a reason why you didn’t just open up another location for The Armoury?
MC: The new store happened under my watch. We originally intended to have a store within a few years of the change of ownership but the Clifford Street location suddenly popped onto the market and was so compelling, we jumped at it. Michael Hill and I were both very keen on being able to make the Drake’s aesthetic a tangible, complete thing where we could display our products in an environment that we had full control over. I think all of our products are great but certainly some need to be seen in context with the right accompanying pieces and in the right surroundings to be fully appreciated. At the same time, it helps to promote the brand in general which in turn helps our wholesale customers worldwide.
Because of the specialized nature of mens’ suiting and bespoke clothing in general, I don’t intend on opening any more Armouries until the right people to run them join our team. We are happy with The Armoury in Hong Kong and Drake’s was far more in need of a physical presence.
DG: Will there be any collaborations between The Armoury and Drake’s in the future? Perhaps exclusive designs or some other interesting arrangements? Will there be a house label for The Armoury, perhaps made by Drake’s or its associates?
MC: There will be some collaborations, we have already designed something special for The Armoury VIPs come our 1 year birthday in October.
We have no plans for a house brand, we enjoy being able to work with select makers and would not want to hide their identity. I would prefer The Armoury to remain a place where people can go to find great things made by dedicated people and sold with friendly, informed service.
DG: The Armoury has a very distinctive international flavor, whereas Drake’s has a strong British identity. Are you committing to that, or will there be new brand directions?
MC: I am glad that you picked up that The Armoury is very much about an International aesthetic. There is no intention of changing course on either brand. The Armoury is about “International Classic” and Drakes is about being the best of “British style”. The two remain separate, independent businesses with neither one having any control over the other.
DG: Will Drake’s other accessories (e.g. sweaters, shirts, scarves, pocket squares, etc) be discontinued or expanded?
MC: We will not be discontinuing anything and there are no plans to expand immediately into any new types of products. We are very much the slow-burning types and prefer to do things at our own pace rather than jump into products that we cannot stand behind. The only thing I have really insisted on is to make smaller sizes available so hopefully we will start to see that effort come to fruition next year. I wear a 36/46 so it bugs me when I can’t find things in my size.
DG: The Armoury’s most public faces are you, Alan, and Ethan. I hadn’t ever thought about the financiers of the project. Do they have backgrounds in the men’s clothing industry? Maybe we can use this opportunity to talk about the founding of The Armoury itself, who came up with the idea and vision, how you met the financiers, and how the team was put together.
MC: They are a shy bunch so I cannot speak anything more about other people involved other than I am among the new owners of Drake’s. The Armoury was founded by Alan See and I. Ethan Newton was with us when we first opened and became a full time member of the team early this year and I would say is of the founding group as well. When we first started, we were helping WW Chan set up an accessories department and it kind of grew out of that. We realized the market in Hong Kong was missing a lot of great things that had a ready audience. Furthermore, we wanted to promote classic menswear in Hong Kong and offer the sort of clothing and look we really believe is the foundation of any man’s wardrobe. I spent a few years working in China prior to The Armoury and frankly, the standard of dress there is not very high. Seeing people in good clothes puts a smile on my face, seeing people dressed sloppily really depresses me, so I decided I should try and do something about it.
DG: Are there any other plans for expansion? Could we see The Armoury building some umbrella brand of companies?
MC: I suppose anything’s possible! Nonetheless, I would prefer to spend the time building Drake’s and The Armoury which are doing well but have a long way to go yet.
The Financial Times has an excellent article on some of Hong Kong’s menswear entrepreneurs. Men such Mark Cho, Justin Chang, Gerald Shen, Edwin Neo, and Arnold Wong are all featured. These are some of the most inspiring people in the business right now, in my opinion.
Come back Monday for an interview I have with Mark Cho about the new transition in ownership at Drake’s of London.
I name a lot of sartorial heros on here, but Mark and Alan at The Armoury rank high on that list. Everything about their shop is essentially what I draw on for inspiration at this blog. Plus, now that they have Ethan Desu, that shop probably holds the most concentrated center of sartorial knowledge on the planet. Those three guys know their stuff.
Check out their new feature on CNN. Well deserved, guys.
A lovely piece and a remarkable store.