Much of getting a bespoke suit tailored relies on tactility and visual judgement. The first is near impossible to replicate digitally, while the latter can be compensated for via the medium of screens and audio. The most overlooked aspect of the fitting process is communication, with the constant flow of conversation between customer and tailor being the primary means for both to express their preferences.
Sound, therefore, is crucial in commissioning a well-fitting jacket or suit through the traditional format of the trunk show – where a tailor embarks on a ‘tour’ of sorts, travelling from city to city to directly present their range of products, and to fit and measure clients for new suits. With the onset of the coronavirus last year, trunk shows have gone digital – just one way the world of tailoring has devised to circumvent the forced halt of travel around the world.
Tailored clothing, particularly bespoke tailoring, has a long and storied history in Hong Kong and few haberdasheries around the world have a stronger selection of artisanally made garments than The Armoury. During more normal times, founders Alan See and Mark Cho would offer to their customers access to world-renowned tailors from Naples to Osaka by regularly inviting these skilled masters to visit their store and hold trunk shows. In doing so, they make full use of a retail space that evokes the eyes as well as the ears, thanks to a KEF speaker arrangement that broadcasts See and Cho’s eclectic tastes in music, ranging from gospel to grunge.
No doubt, the aforementioned travel ban has put a damper on this arrangement, forcing See and Cho to turn to technology to push The Armoury forward. In his own words, See speaks with us on how he suspects the latest audio-visual innovations can help the industry at large.
Tell me a little bit more about how you have transitioned from physical trunk shows to virtual ones.
A huge portion of our business depends on trunk shows. In the ten years since The Armoury was founded, we have slowly convinced many hesitant craftsmen to get comfortable with the idea of travelling to different locales to share their talents. Bespoke tailoring is by no means an industry driven by the latest technological advances, as much of its inherent charm comes from the fact that it is so steeped in tradition. It’s only natural that so many were initially resistant to change, though what we’ve managed to do is win their trust by safeguarding the reputations of these artisans, and how they are perceived.
What are some of the considerations for a virtual trunk show?
We cannot escape the fact that our customers are parting with a significant amount for the experience, so a virtual trunk show experience has to match up to that exacting standard. Audio, video, the layout and people involved all have to be top notch – not only from the customers’ point of view but also from the tailors’ perspective. To replicate the in-person experience meant multiple cameras to capture different angles like the tailor would be able to in person, a full length screen, lab mics and studio lights.
Could you enlighten us as to which model of speakers you use for the virtual trunk shows?
I’ve always found Bluetooth speakers to have disconnection issues. For my own personal use, I was in the market for some reliable wireless speakers and came across a set from KEF – the LSX series to be exact. Not only were they wireless but they were also good looking and easy to set up.
At first when they were installed, fiddling with the KEF app for a few minutes changed the sound entirely. Inputting information like the distance from certain walls or ledges made all the difference, and I like that it is meant to fit into different kinds of spaces. Pretty clever bit of tech, so we tried it in the shop.
What do you see as the potential possibilities for the clothing industry at large, employing technology like The Armoury now does?
Where I see this coming in handy is with tailors that usually have to travel. For example, the lead time for a suit is one year with two fittings in between. It’s difficult to justify these trips without critical mass and orders need to be consolidated. For [tailors like] Antonio Liverano [of Florentine tailor Liverano & Liverano] who is pushing 80 years old, the 12-hour flights can be physically very taxing. The novelty of travelling for work wears off too, and most of the time they revert to wanting the taste of home.
With these virtual trunk shows, we’re actually speeding up the process because we can shoot over the garments piece by piece. There’s no longer the need to justify critical mass.
What music have you been listening to lately? What is currently on rotation on your playlist?
I have always been a fan of grunge music so my tastes are quite eclectic. We actually had a tube amplifier and electric guitar in the store about eight years ago for customers to noodle on. Kind of wish it was still there!
Would you say you are more of a speaker listener or headphone user?
I’m on the go most of the time, so I’d say headphones. We have KEF speakers in the shop, though.
Growing up, do you think any of the artists you listened to had an influence on how you dress now (even if it has evolved since)?
On certain days off, you might find me skateboarding whilst listening to Soundgarden and Nirvana, sometimes even in ready-to-wear clothing from The Armoury. I’ve actually been wear-testing a new prototype of ours called the Road Jacket.
I recently saw that your colleague, Jim Parker, composed a fantastically unusual jingle for the store. How did this come about?
That is all Mark’s [Cho] doing, and Jim made everything else happen. We wanted to come up with our own unique jingle for our YouTube channel, giving him free reign to do whatever he wanted to. He came up with a pretty great thrash metal song about suits and grey trousers!