Original Japanese article appeared in GQ Japan Feb 2016, titled "Being an Asian Dandy". It was written by Yoshimi Hasegawa and Keishi Iwata, much love and thanks to them, it was a pleasure to work together. Also, many thanks to Emi Saito for the translation and Carmen for the photography.
The article is split into 17 "Tips", the first 16 have some great photography and content related to people and products involved with The Armoury. That section can be seen here as a PDF download or from below links:
The article ends with an interview between me and Hasegawa-san. It's a more lengthy text, so I kept it as pure English text rather than overlaid.
A hero of our time who traversed the East/West border
East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, a popular early 20th century British poet Rudyard Kipling stated the diremption of Eastern and Western cultures.
However, for Mark Cho who leads The Armoury, the world is not divided to East and West. He has crossed the usual border of Europe and Asia. He has Malaysian nationality, was born and brought up in London, went to a high school in England and was educated in a US university. He has lived in England, South Africa, Hong Kong, China, and the USA, so we cannot categorise with the East/West concept. Currently, he is a true jet-setter who travels between Hong Kong, New York and London every 2 weeks in average.
“I do not feel like I live anywhere (permanently)”, says Mark.
He wore a bright green tie from Drake’s (where he is a co-owner of), and a dark gray suit from Liverano e Liverano, (a tailor that represents Florence). He has a Western manner of confidence and sociableness, and has Asian humbleness and politeness at the same time.
“The reason I like Liverano is that their cut is amazing, comfortable to wear, and their house-style is not so flashy. I tend to avoid a style that stands out very much. Maybe because I grew up in England, it’s very important for me”.
Mark’s passion for menswear is based on his respect to tailoring and craftsmanship. How was it nurtured?
“When I was 16, my school policy changed and it was not an obligation to wear the uniform any more. Then, my interest to menswear flourished. We were only allowed to wear dark suit such as gray or navy, I started to do research then. My father frequented a London tailor and had many suits, so the base of classic style was learnt from him. From there, I experimented a lot, made many mistakes, and reached my current style. So, it’s a work of 16 years”.
Mark is 32 years old now. What of men’s fashion attract him so much?
“Men’s fashion has a solid history and very rich in depth. There are so many technical details and rules, so we need to know and follow them. I like all of this systematic universe. Not only myself, but I feel like most men are also like that”.
The Armoury opened in October 2010 and in these short 5 years, their name became famous in Hong Kong and in many parts of the world.
Additional to products made in Italy, UK and USA, they stock items from all over the world including Japan and Australia. Also, they host made-to-order trunk shows very often. They are aiming to become a truly international store which cross the national borders.
“Without labeling us to (carry items from) certain countries, our customers kindly trust our taste. The important thing is not to limit ourselves to one style, but to take in styles that we like and mix them together. Not just Hong Kong, but in China, Korea, and Japan all received foreign cultures brought in, and the history formed like that. We should enjoy the advantage that we have access to anything from anywhere in the world”.
The store name (Armoury) means a place to store weapons in English.
“We name it as a kind of joke, like a wardrobe that has weapons for men to fight with”.
If suits are modern men’s armour, it’s a very clever naming.
They are on media almost every month, The Armoury became the “hero of men’s fashion”. One of the reasons for their rapid success is use of social media.
“Like there is a generation that grew up with TV, we are the generation that grew up with the Internet. The Armoury has never done advertising or publicity like big brands. Our customers visit us from all around the world seeing magazine articles or websites. Social media such as Instagram are playing a significant role. In these past 5 years their role has changed a lot, and the influence is growing bigger and bigger. We wouldn’t be able to imagine today’s business without them”.
Social media can be used from anywhere in the world and Mark is educated in the USA and the UK, so he could have started The Armory in somewhere rather than Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is very business friendly. Tax is low, you can set a company with a few thousand HK dollars. Infrastructure such as visas for foreign workers and the mail system are very well set up. Also, Hong Kong is a freeport without tax. Even now the best things come to Hong Kong, and the market is here too. The only problem is the highest rent in the world: it gives us such a headache”.
London laid the base of Mark’s mens’ classic style, and Hong Kong gave birth to The Armoury.
While living in China working at an investment company, he met Alan See on a website, and since they both were Hong Kong’s historic tailor WW Chan’s customers, they became close very quickly. By helping WW Chan’s London trunk-show, Mark became close to their head cutter Patrick also. Back then, WW Chan had their boutique in Kowloon Peninsula and they have consulted Mark about moving to Pedder building, The Armoury’s current shop location.
On Mark’s own website (www.markcho.com), you can read his column on Hong Kong’s tailoring history. There, he expressed his love for Hong Kong tailoring which has evolved in a very unique way, and his concern for not having enough inheritors of the craftsmanship.
“In comparison to Hong Kong, there are so many more very good artisans in Japan who have inherited high quality craftsmanship. They have not been introduced overseas due to language barrier etc. I am very happy to be able to introduce such artisans and brands. For example, shoemakers Yohei Fukuda and Koji Suzuki; suit makers Tailor Caid and Ring Jacket; and Ortus Bags”.
It is The Armoury’s own strength that they sell brands that suit each region of Europe, America, and Asia, which have never been introduced.
What is going to become of Mark Cho in future? Kipling’s poem that I mentioned at the beginning of this article leads to verses like these: But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth/When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!
Kipling was a British man born in Mumbai, India. He must have written this poem wishing that Eastern and Western cultures to cross borders one day. However, the time has changed. A new generation has sprung: they can enjoy Eastern and Western cultures simultaneously and can blend them within themselves naturally.
From now on, we will face a new global-minded era that is free from Asian/European boundaries. The popularity of The Armoury and the great success of Mark Cho are pioneering to this future.