Like all the most prolific menswear professionals, Alan See’s journey into clothing started with a love for getting dressed up. “It was pretty organic, in the sense that I was always interested in dressing up,” he says. “When I started my first job, I needed to figure out the best value and best fitting suit for it. It gave me the excuse I needed to go online and dive into books, and do a lot of research into tailoring.”
Clearly, this deep-dive into the world of men’s style sparked something. Today, See is the co-founder of The Armoury, which is perhaps the best known and most loved multi-brand retailer in menswear, with its two outposts in New York and Hong Kong. See’s business partner, Mark Cho, spends most of his time in NYC, while the Hong Kong store is See’s domain.
“I met Mark through Styleforum, which was booming at the time,” See recalls. “He was trying to sell some clothes that I wanted to buy. We met in a cafe somewhere, realised we had a lot of mutual friends because originally our dads are from the same small town in Malaysia, and obviously we had a mutual interest, too.” The pair started to work with WW Chan, a respected bespoke tailor in Hong Kong, helping them to stock accessories and complementary products, before the idea occurred to them both that they could do this for themselves.
I ask See whether he ever expected The Armoury to become so big. “I still don’t think The Armoury is that big,” he says. “I think we have a strong voice but physically we’re just New York, Hong Kong and a little showroom in Shanghai. The internet and social media have definitely helped us to find a voice and community. I feel like we’ve found our home, but fine tailoring isn’t ever going to be for the masses.”
Even so, The Armoury remains a hugely significant store, with global reach. “We definitely didn’t expect it [The Armoury] to become so popular, so quickly – especially outside of Asia,” See continues. Part of the store’s success in this regard is its continual, gentle evolution. The Armoury was there for the ‘sartorial’, suit-toting 2010s, but now, in today’s post-business suit era, the brand is finding its softer side.
“It’s been a gradual shift, but year-after-year, things have gotten more casual,” says See. “Now, we have more relaxed silhouettes; our Road Jacket, our Three Pocket Blouson, lots of knitwear and separates, which get mixed in with tailoring. Things are going in a positive direction.”
I love to eat at street spots wherever I am in the world; whether in the US or Italy, or Japan. Hong Kong’s street food is excellent. I go to a place called Yat Lok regularly, it’s famous for roast goose.
Chiu Hing Fishall Rice Noodle is another go-to. It’s famous for noodles with fish balls, or squid balls – it’s surprisingly light and refreshing. A good alternative to a carb-heavy lunch. Or there’s Mak’s Noodle on Wellington Street, which all the tailors go to. They do the best Wonton noodles in the city.
For a beer, I’ll drink at local street hawkers. Temple Street is a good spot. For something refined, try the Fine Wine Experience at Bâtard. It’s one of the super-popular restaurants in Hong Kong, right now. It’s a restaurant with a cellar and wine shop, and you can choose wines to drink in the restaurant at retail price – without the marked-up restaurant price. It’s super-popular with all the wine guys over here.
There are some interesting local shops to explore too. Actually, the whole district of Mong Kok is worth exploring – local designers pop up in and around there. I’ve been spending a lot of time there because I’ve got an aquarium, and I’m aquascaping with my with my kids. There’s a street called Bute Street, with the nickname ‘Goldfish Street’, that’s good to visit.
The museum experience in Hong Kong is getting better and better. M+ Museum was built not so long ago, and it’s a good combination of Hong Kong and Chinese art. There’s contemporary Chinese art and Western art in there as well.
I couldn’t do this interview and not point readers towards WW Chan and Ascot Chang, too. They’re integral to the menswear establishment here.
Thomas Mason is a brand of cotonificio albini s.p.a.
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