Best US shop 2019: The Armoury (or, how to break the US)

Wednesday, February 27th 2019
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Best shop in the US: The Armoury

Runner-up: Sid Mashburn


Some of the Permanent Style awards this year were close. The award for best US store was not: The Armoury romped home.

To a certain extent, that’s not surprising. It stocks all the things PS readers love, has an international reputation, and genuinely offers something different even in a city the size of New York.

But many brands have tried to set up US branches over the years, and found it tough. It’s very competitive, often price-focused, and surprisingly conservative.

I asked Mark Cho, a founder of The Armoury (and part owner of Drake’s) how the move came about, and what he’s learnt from the past five years the store has been open.



Permanent Style: Why did you decide to open in New York as the next city after Hong Kong?

Mark Cho: In 2012, we were considering London and NY. I had looked at a number of spots in and around Mayfair and the West End for an Armoury but the lease premiums were nuts.

I had made a few offers of around six months to a year's rent to takeover existing tenants’ leases and was constantly getting outbid.

London made sense because we had some customers, it's home for me, I love the city and we had a little Drake's infrastructure we could rely on. However, since I couldn't get a space for a reasonable amount, I decided to move on.

How did you find the space in New York?

It was a strange twist of fate. We already saw our online store was doing a large chunk of its business sending to the USA and especially to New York, so we wanted to build on that. The idea was to try and open an office/showroom operation in NY.

I used to live and work in the city so I had some familiarity with it. On one particular expedition to look for spaces, I had to go to a friend's wedding which was taking place at City Hall downtown. He ended up being three hours late to his own wedding (he is a bit unreliable).

While I was waiting, I had a wander in the neighbourhood and came across 168 Duane St. I thought it was just an incredibly beautiful location and was immediately imagining how The Armoury might look there. At the time, it was a gift shop and I had intended my daydream to be nothing but a daydream.


The New York store

A few days later, I was browsing property listings and somehow came across the Tribeca local paper's website with a classified notice saying the gift shop was for sale. I decided to pursue it further and went straight to the shop that morning before my flight back to Hong Kong.

The owner was not around but I left a message with the shop assistant. He got back in touch, turned out he was a Yorkshireman who had settled in the US years ago.

The space was much bigger than I expected, with an extensive basement that he used as his offices for his advertising agency. The gift shop was something of an amusing side project for the real business downstairs.

I explained what I did with The Armoury and Drake's. He was happy to hear that I was a shopkeeper and also working with mills in the UK. He was hoping that he could pass his business onto another shopkeeper, so we struck a deal soon after and the shop became mine.


Yohei Fukuda at The Armoury

What have you learnt about American customers? How do they vary, how do they shop?

Generally the US customer is more similar than different to the HK customer. As you'd imagine, professionals comprise a large part of our customer base: banking, finance, consultancy, legal, medical as well as entrepreneurs, businessmen and people from the art and media worlds.

They’re well traveled and a number of them visit both the HK and NY shops. When we first started, we even had a few Tribeca-based customers who had previously shopped with us in Hong Kong and were glad to see us in their neighbourhood.

The commonalities for all of them is they’re interested in something classic but a little off the beaten track, are invested in quality and enjoy craftsmanship.

Does the familiarity with bespoke vary?

The level of experience there is definitely different. Hong Kong today has a stronger culture of conservative business dress and having your clothes made for you. In NY, that culture waned as a side effect of relaxing workplace dress codes.

Compared to Hong Kong, more American customers are also at an early stage in building their bespoke wardrobe, so there is more interest in staple items. The cream-linen bespoke Liverano suit has yet to fill many American wardrobes, but I'm excited to eventually make that happen.


Hats and totes

What expectations you had at the start have been verified or contradicted?

I expected that sizing would be a challenge in the US. We were comfortable with our size grading (the difference in dimensions of garments as they increase in size) for sizes 50 and below, but we had work to do for sizes above that.

Our grading system is not automated and I have spent a long time working on it across a number of products. It is an iterative process, and you have to pay attention to customer feedback and also amalgamated alterations data each season, to slowly dial it in.

We take this very seriously and it was part of the impetus for having The Armoury by Ring Jacket, which is tailoring made by Ring Jacket in Japan but in our own exclusive models and fabrics.


Ring Jacket styles

How have you found marketing and communication in the US? I'm told it can be a hard area to break into.

Yes, marketing and communication in the US is hard to penetrate. The system is somewhat insular because journalists just have so many brands wanting to speak to them.

PR companies act as gatekeepers, and having the right people introduce you and represent you is a worthwhile investment.

But I generally like working with the journalists and count many of them as friends. They are also good sounding boards for new projects and getting a sense of what the market might be thinking.

How has the product range evolved in New York since you opened? Do you have to keep different stock in the stores to reflect the different customers?

New York's effect on the product range centres on three main aspects: weather, sizing and staples.

New York has inclement weather, thus we stepped up development of knitwear, boots and heavy-fabric garments. Sizing, as I mentioned before, has been refined, particularly for our Japanese suppliers.

And staples are an important part of the business, so we try to keep healthy stock of basic key items like white shirts, navy suits, black cap-toe shoes etc.


Tailor Caid by The Armoury

How has it been having a store so far away from the first? It must be hard given you and Alan are so used to being so close to everything in HK?

Tiring but fulfilling. I travel to New York monthly because the store is my baby and I want to make sure it is doing well. I deal with a number of our good US clients personally and it's always a pleasure to spend time with them during these visits.

Given the distance, it’s difficult to keep up with everything when I'm away but I do my best, with conference calls at all hours and a great team that I really rely on, like our General Manager, Bailey McKay and Head Buyer, Jim Parker.

I feel it’s important to maintain a consistent brand between the two locations and it has been an interesting challenge given the differences in customer needs in Hong Kong and New York.

I am always fascinated when certain items do much better in one location than the other. Digging into the reasons more deeply can sometimes yield interesting insights.

For instance, we do much worse with pinstripe suits in New York than Hong Kong, seemingly because there is still a cultural barrier to pinstripes in New York. New Yorkers still associate pinstripes with gangsters and they are more apprehensive about wearing it themselves.


Myself being fitted by Jim

What other lessons have you learnt since the store opened?

Managing people, managing relationships and trying to build a team and culture are probably the most important lessons I have learnt and am still learning.

Improvement in these areas has mostly come from experience or more accurately: painful mistakes. I read what I can on psychology and behavioural economics (Tversky and Kahneman are my heroes) and that has helped a lot as well.

I am always trying to work on communication, both internally and externally. For better or for worse, The Armoury is a very interesting place with a very diverse product offering, to the point of being confusing or just too much trouble for some customers.

Ultimately, the goal is to be telling the right story to the right person and helping them into something great without pigeonholing them to "the brand". The Armoury is not out to photocopy looks, it's trying to outfit individuals.

Do you know where you will look to next?

I would like to do another store in New York. It's a big city, I'd love to have something further uptown.

Other than that, just consolidate, do what we do better. We're far from perfect but I'm quite proud of our progress, the people we work with and the customers we serve. I hope we can do it for many more years to come.

Good luck, from PS and all the readers that voted for you.


With General Manager Bailey

You can see all the voting for this award on the initial post here

Photography: Jamie Ferguson and Elliot Hammer

What to learn more about how Permanent Style is funded? Details here: 'Is this an ad?'


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Vu e

Nice post


You’re right–Sid Mashburn, Ben Silver, O’Connell’s, J Press, Brooks Brothers…………..The Armoury? Perhaps the Armoury with a very small population of U.S. readers.


Brook Brothers… LOL!


It’s Brooks Brothers–let’s see if Ring Jacket survives 201 years. I would contend that product offerings from The Armory appeal to a small niche audience.


Was the fitting possibly for a Ring Jacket, err, jacket?
Given the universal praise they keep getting, it’d be interesting to read your take on it. I’ve just handled one jacket quickly myself, but the initial impressions were great indeed.


Looking forward to it.


We’re spoilt for great shops in London of course, but it’s a shame to read that a store like The Armoury was driven to New York by extortionate rent.


So London missed out because of lease costs !
Interestingly, I popped into a ‘soft tailored store’ in London over the weekend before visiting the PS pop up store .
The ‘soft tailored store ‘ was quoting over £1100 for a jacket whilst Prologue quoted a suit starting from £900 .
London leases ?

P.S. I was very impressed with the PS pop up store . The opportunity to just walk in chat , try things on etc , without the sales pressure is something others could really learn from .


It’s hard to believe that The Armoury cannot not find an affordable and suitable location in a London. In recent years, there have been several niche clothing firms that have opened new shops in St James’s, Marylebone and in or near The City.


Very well deserved. Such an awesome place.


A cathedral where you can experience sartorial bliss.


I don’t think Mark has it right when he posits: “New Yorkers still associate pinstripes with gangsters and they are more apprehensive about wearing it themselves.”

The aversion is a reaction to 80s power suits – like the ones worn by Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. There’s also a hangover from films like American Psycho. Art imitated life – then that paradigm was flipped – then it became a cliche to dress like one of those throwback finance guys.

Few New Yorkers consider Little Caesar, or some mid-century film noir when they’re picking out clothes. But we do consider iconic New York films that have become dated – in no small part – because of the fashion.

(the pinstripe suit he favored is pictured here:

Jackson Hart

I agree with you, although I must add almost as an aside that I am very careful not to wear my fedora and/or trench coat when wearing any of my pinstriped suits. I am sure you can appreciate the possible mockery whispers and snickering that might ensue from such a cartoonish, although entirely accidental and innocent, appearance. Also, in many industries such as banking, finance and law, pinstripes might subject the wearer to accusations of gaudiness, garishness or dandyism. In these industries a simple pocket square may be considered too flashy so a pinstriped suit would be treading the line.


A worthy winner.
Sad that London lost out albeit I’m not sure why the search focused on Mayfair.
I often think Kensington is very neglected and would make a perfect venue for ‘The Armoury’


Notting Hill has replaced Kensington as the up market shopping area on the west side of London. Kensington High Street, like the Kings Road in Chelsea, is now full of the usual boring national brand stores, coffee shops and restaurants. The Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush is much better and has taken a lot business from the High Street stores.

Marylebone High Street and the neighbouring streets has a much wider choice of independent shops, bars and restaurants. It’s not surprising that Anglo Italian and English Cut chose that area rather than Mayfair. It would be a good choice for The Armoury too.


think it’s a shame we don’t have a branch of the Armorury in our fair city of London. On the other hand, I think we will be ok as we are already spoiled for choice of shops selling expensive menswear that 95% of men working 9-5 jobs can’t and will never be able to afford.


It is a tremendous shame that London missed out on rent.

Mark- if you are reading this, please do re-consider as it is a pain ordering online from you as we will have to pay export taxes etc so it’s driving a lot of consumers away.

Look at Anglo-Italian, they opened shop here, Marylebone will be a good place for The Armoury- similar to Tribeca in that respect-location wise


Very candid interview. Thank you.


Their selection is very well edited. I appreciate their trunk shows and the interaction with the principles. I think they want their clients to appreciate and enjoy their choices. Good choice.


Surprised Sid Mashburn came in second, even a distant second. I have not heard one positive review of their MTM service or customer service. In fact, I have only heard negative.

Mike H

As a long time loyal customer, Sid Mashburn’s products are very well made and an excellent value. Having shopped online, and in their DC and Atlanta stores, their customer service is first rate.


Ok, they have been voted best store in the U.S. I disagree. They are not the worst store out there, but I do not think the best. Their website for purchasing items is not all that great and they have limited items and supplies on there. And everything The Armoury touches gets jacked up in price. For example, Drakes got jacked up in price (after bought by Armoury owners) as well as Liverano from what I hear. Orazio is also another jacked up brand. I find it hard to believe they could not find a London space based upon their profit from jacked up prices. Plus, The Armoury never has sales. Even Sid has sales as Mashburn. Drakes has sales, but The Armoury’s Drake items never go on sale which makes no sense. I think The Armoury benefits from good marketing, i.e. instagram, but, no, they are not the best men’s store in the USA.


Sack Suits

Simon, I recall you mentioning that you’ve never been a fan of the American style sack suit (maybe a post about Japan), but I may be mistaken I have read so much of your content over the past few years.

Do you have any opinions on the look? Most of the times it can be hideous and unflattering or outdated at the very least, but with the right physique and fit, it can be quite handsome. And while mostly a rtw thing, the Armoury has suits made by Tailor Caid (Yamamoto-san) from Japan (and I read they are big fans!). He cuts this style and I think the pieces look gorgeous. Would you consider having one made? If anything , it would be a great addition to the in-depth guides.

Regardless, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on the style, if you think it can be pulled off and any thoughts on tailor caid (or at least the thought of creating shape with an undarted jacket, it seems particularly challenging)?



Compliments to Mark Cho and his team. I am lucky enough to live in Hong Kong and pop into the Armoury every once in a while to treat myself to something exquisite. Products and service are always excellent. What I do struggle with is that the suiting, shirting and trousers etc are always RTW or MTM. I have Ring Jacket and Orazio Luciano suits and jackets and some of the Armoury shirts and, although the quality and style is second to none, there is no bespoke and the fit is not always brilliant. They offer free alterations etc. but I do wonder sometimes if my local, cheaper but fully bespoke tailor isn’t the better option. Style and quality are great but isn’t fit the most important thing?

Jackson Hart

You’re a regular Armoury customer and managed to miss its constant flow of fully bespoke trunk shows given by Liverano, Dembech, Caid, Ciccio, Pommella and Ambrosi?


Indeed. The traveling makers I have tried offer MTM – no intermediate fittings. I don’t think full bespoke with a tailor that only visits twice a year is an attractive proposition. Purchase a suit that will be ready in 12 months, 18 or 24 if you are unlucky. I am not complaining, just struggling with the concept


Hey simon would you consider a taupe jacket like so ( a versatile purchase a second sports coat (after a navy one)?

I own a lot of grey trousers and I think only specific ones (namely very dark – charcoal) would work with them


Hi Simon,

I love this post and have been dying to get to down The Armoury even just to look around. I had a more general question on how you make choices about where to spend your money on your next piece when you are building your wardrobe. Having a two year old and living in the suburbs of NYC (where the monthly cost of daycare alone is about the cost of a bespoke suit), I have limited funds to spend on my wardrobe. I have a decent business casual foundation (mostly Brooks Brothers) and two good suits ( and Sid Mashburn), but I’d like to step it up and take my wardrobe to the next level. The way I am thinking about it is I have enough right now to essentially get one of the three:

1) Ring jacket suit from the Armoury (I have to wear a suit at work maybe once or twice a month, but it is with the highest levels of my organization e.g. CEO, CFO, Board members)
2) A sport coat to up my daily business casual wardrobe
3) A minimum bespoke shirt order from somewhere like Ascot Chang or T&A for better fitting office wear.

Or I guess there’s a fourth option of going lower quality to get more and build on that.

So I guess, how do you think about how and where you should spend your money knowing it may be 3-6 months before you can buy your next piece?




I was recently looking at the tassle loafers from the armoury, and I love the style. It’s a truly interesting design; but, I’m always a little apprehensive about purchasing them given the price point and the fact that the armoury is not a tried and true shoe manufacturer. Do you have any experience with shoes from the armoury? Do you think my apprehension with the quality is warranted?

Thank you


Simon, we all love the Armoury but honesty is key. I have two paIrs. They are not great. But they also are not so over priced. It’s a lower price point. They make them at at the Cheany factory. You get what you pay for.