A Closer Look: The Armoury NYC
A Closer Look: The Armoury NYC
- Words Christopher Fenimore
- Date March 06, 2018
If you live in NYC and want a suit, you go to The Armoury. Is it expensive? Certainly, but you get what you pay for. Between the service and the product, you’re guaranteed to walk out feeling confident you spent your money wisely. They have a range of products from British, Italian and Japanese artisans who are all masters of their craft—frankly, outside of America, those are tailoring epicenters and you wouldn’t want anyone else making your tailored goods. The Armoury has its own line as well, and what makes the store unique is the passion the owners feel for the brands they buy. They don’t buy anything they don’t believe in and wear, so there’s never a disconnect from the owners of the shop and message and direction of the store.
Back to the staff: They’re trained to figure out exactly how your clothes should fit you, and they know everything there is to know about the product in the shop. You won’t have to fumble through awkward conversation, or beg someone to help or feel like you’re a novice if this is your first time buying a suit. The store is warm (and yes it is a serious place to shop) but it’s not stuffy. While it might be intimidating to see a staff this well-dressed, they’re there to help, and they aren’t judging you based on how you’re dressed. Below the shop floor, there’s a basement that looks nothing like a basement where The Armoury has built a backroom for drinks after-hours with clients, where they can peruse fabrics, silhouettes and just generally have a discussion. I talked to the shop’s manager, Ben Levy, about all things Armoury.
Tell me about yourself and what you do here.
I’ve worked here for about two years. I manage our sales floor, our social media and I work heavily on our content creation. I do most of our in-store photography and help out with our internal editorial work.
Please give me a breakdown of what goes on here. Describe The Armoury.
The Armoury originally opened in Hong Kong about seven years ago. Our owners, Mark and Alan, wanted to create a space where they could showcase these really cool, small artisan makers that they’d found around the world—one of them being Ring Jacket from Osaka, another being Liverano and Liverano from Florence—and give them exposure to a wider audience that may not have necessarily known about their product. The Armoury NYC has been open for about four years as an extension of that same idea.
We’ve grown to include some other brands: Orazio Luciano from Naples and a Neapolitan trouser maker named Lino Pamella. We work with Carmina, a shoemaker from Spain. We’ve also been working on developing our own line of products—we have sweaters made in Scotland, shoes made in Northampton in England, and so, we really strive to create a space and a look where a suit isn’t necessary a stuffy, hard-to-wear item. We want all of our clothing to be soft and comfortable and easy. We want you to feel just as good wearing a sport coat and trousers as you would in a T-shirt and jeans.
One of my favorite things about The Armoury is how separate it is from other retail in the city. A lot of shops have come and gone in the last few years and with those shops, I’ve seen a lot of similar brand rosters. What do you think makes The Armoury successful in the face of New York City retail adversity?
I think we’ve managed to stick around because we’re intentionally a bit out of the way. We’re in TriBeCa, which has never been a big shopping area. More stuff is starting to open up now than has been here in the past, but it makes us a bit more of a destination. Part of the reason behind that is we mainly do custom garments, so it really helps us to be able to spend a bit more time with our clients when they do come in, versus fighting for walk-in traffic off the street.
Another thing that we really have tried hard to do is create a list of makers that you can only get through us, the reason being the makers and brands we work with are really small and can’t produce much more than they already are. A lot of bespoke tailors have a small window of things they can physically create so we’ve managed to get really close with our makers and have a really good relationship with the people that work with us. If you want something from Liverano, you’ve got to come here or buy a plane ticket to Florence. Same thing with custom Ring Jacket. I think a lot of that has allowed us to stand on our own and not have to worry about what is going on in the city. We try not to have a trend-driven business. I’d like to think our look has been very consistent from when we opened to now, and we’ve got set ideas of what we think makes a suit, or makes tailoring look good. Season after season, our clients know they can come here and get quality and get The Armoury idea.
I’m curious as to what you look for in adding a new brand. What’s the process like?
I don’t bring in any of the new brands here, but what I look for personally when I want to buy something for myself, either from among our group of makers, or from the world at large, is personality, which I think we do at the shop here as well. We want somebody that really can exude their idea and what they are trying to get across. Heritage is great, as long as the quality is there as well. Liverano has been in business for a long time making consistently beautiful garments. We work with Ascot Chang from Hong Kong, who’s one of the oldest shirt makers in Hong Kong that still consistently makes really beautiful shirts. A lot of what we look for is value, too. We understand that really well made things cost more money than something that’s not of the same quality but, we want everything that we carry in the shop to be of a good value and we want to feel that we’re charging a fair price for quality. We want to be able to deliver that high quality to the largest audience that we can without necessarily breaking the bank.
It’s no secret a lot of us who work at Grailed started out in a traditional menswear world before moving on to experimentation with high fashion. Have you seen a shift in your customer base since you’ve opened?
A little bit—it’s cool. I think a lot of our customers wear suits because they have to, but they come to us because they understand the ideas behind what we do and who we work with and where our style comes from. I think through that, a lot of our clients are really educated on style and clothing in general. We’ll see a lot of our clients come in on their day off wearing Visvim and other higher fashion stuff. We have a few clients that will come in and buy a really nice, well-tailored Italian suit and leave wearing Rick Owens trousers and a Raf shirt, so I think the line isn’t necessarily as clear as the Internet might lead somebody to believe. And there’s definitely more room for experimentation than there is perhaps perceived.
A big idea of The Armoury is time and place, so there’s definitely specific things that should be worn in a specific way for specific occasions and times. Our clients also understand that you’re going to work at an office job and maybe a sportcoat and trousers is the most appropriate thing for that time and place, and then they’re off running around on the weekends and can wear whatever they want. We like to play around within those kind of boundaries as much as we can.
We just got in some leather jackets from The Real McCoys which are much more workwear-y than some stuff we’ve had in the past. We’ve done a lot of stuff in chambray, a lot of stuff in denim, some really heavy fabrics. Even our tailoring, we make up in things that aren’t necessarily thought of as luxury tailoring fabrics—we like really heavy cottons, really sturdy wools—big, thick cloths that you might not always see made up in the styles that we made them up in. We like to toe that line while staying within our own ideas of the aesthetic that we like.
Do you provide any services outside of your standard retail fare for clients? What separates The Armoury from other stores of a similar ilk?
We try to. All of our sales staff is trained to mark for alterations; we do all of our own marking and pinning for alterations in house. We’ll deliver, we’ll courier; we really try to make life as easy as possible for our clients. We’ve gotten pretty close with a lot of them, too.
When The Armoury first opened in Hong Kong, they designed the space to be a library that you can drink in, so we try to keep that idea going. If you just want to come in, hang out and drink a whiskey or a beer, or look at fabrics or suits and talk about whatever, that’s what our doors are open for. We’re here to educate and discuss as much as we are to sell stuff.
Which brands or products sell the best for you?
Ring Jacket is one of our biggest brands that we work with—they do a majority of our ready-to-wear tailoring, suits, sportcoats, trousers. I’d say 75 percent of our ready-to-wear tailoring is all Ring Jacket. Carmina is another big brand for us. They’re a Spanish shoemaker and a majority of our styles are from them. At the end of the day, as much as we like to mess around with other things, we’re a suit store—custom suiting and ready to wear suiting is our bread and butter. Almost all of our business comes from tailoring.
What’s the breakdown of your sales that happen to be made to measure?
I would say it’s about half and half, made to measure and ready-to-wear. A lot of it just depends on the person. A big thing for us is working with a client and figuring out what is the best course of action for them, for their life and what they need clothing wise. Somebody fits into a ready to wear suit really well with a little bit of minor adjustments, that’s kind of the dream, you know? They can come in and pick out what they want—we can make stuff up for them on that block in different cloth and be done. We’d never really try and push somebody into made to measure that doesn’t need it. It’s about what suits the body best and what’s going to make the client look and feel the most comfortable.
It seems like you guys have more of a friendship with your customers, and more of a relationship of trust than your typical retailer would.
It’s cool that you notice that. We really try to build that level of trust with the people that choose to spend their time shopping here. We don’t take that lightly—that somebody has made the decision to step in here and spend their time and their money to buy into what we have to offer. Especially with tailoring, it’s a very specific thing and it really has to work with your body well and if they don’t trust us to know what we’re talking about and be able to deliver on that, then we don’t really have much of a chance to exist. We put a lot of time and a lot of work into making sure that we’re really good at we do and know as much as we can know about the construction of what we’re selling and the drape of the cloths that we’re using, how things are supposed to look, and the proportions, the measurements...to really be able to quickly and concisely tell somebody what’s going to be the best option for them.
Does everyone who works here have a background in made to measure or tailoring? Or even just retail in general?
I personally have a background in suiting and made to measure, and retail in general. I think almost all of our staff has worked in the past with retail but I would say a majority of what I have learned (and most of our other staff members) has been here in the shop. A lot of that is because we work really closely with our custom tailors. We bring them into town and we learn how they fit and how they measure. We get to see a lot of different perspectives of tailors and how they like to do things.
That has really opened things up for the staff here, how to be able to be the most consistent on a day to day basis when altering and taking measurements for custom pieces. It’s a tough thing when you need to learn from scratch what tailoring is, what made to measure is, the ideas behind it. There are specific measurements and proportions that are supposed to be right that take up a lot of brain space. We work really hard here to keep up to date and keep everybody on the same page and consistent with what we want our style and look to be. A lot of that comes from spending ample amounts of time with the people that make suits for us and learning why they made the lapel this specific width, or why they made the distance between the buttons this specific amount. That’s really helpful when learning why a suit does or doesn’t look good.
Do you have any tips for someone reading this that wants or needs a suit, doesn’t own one, or owns an old one and needs an update?
A tailor is your best friend as long as they can share your vision and you can communicate exactly what you’re looking for. I would say there’s almost no suit on the planet that looks as good as possible without being touched by a tailor. That said, there are very few suits that will never look good, even with tailoring. I think, especially in 2018, as much good vintage shopping as there is out there, with as many resources as there are on the internet—places like Grailed, where you can buy second-hand in this really curated, specific way—a guy can really find a well-made, well-fitting suit at budgets that would have been a lot harder to in the past.
The best advice if you’re building up a tailoring wardrobe is to start basic and stay basic for a lot longer than you might necessarily think or want to. I’ve fallen into this pitfall personally where you get a couple good things and try and branch out really quickly and realize that you’ve got a lot of individual garments that you can’t do much with, or doesn’t really fit in with the rest of your closet. The biggest idea that’s been helpful to me in dressing personally and creating my wardrobe is to buy as many basics as possible and really try to keep a closet full of stuff that you could wear everyday. There’s a cool aspect to having more out-there pieces that are fun to wear but I really want to be able to look in my closet and wear anything hanging up on any given day and know that I’m going to look nice and put together versus working everyday to create and outfit.