The rise of the cult independent menswear store

A new London boutique opening is the latest in a trend transforming the way men shop

The Armoury co-founders Mark Cho (far left) and Alan See at their original Pedder store in Hong Kong
The Armoury co-founders Mark Cho (far left) and Alan See at their original Pedder store in Hong Kong | Image: Ken Wu

At the beginning of summer, menswear shop Anglo-Italian opened its doors in Marylebone, offering a refreshing and subtle mix of exquisitely made soft tailoring, casual jackets, denim, polo shirts, knitwear and accessories. The brainchild of founders Jake Grantham and Alex Pirounis, it is a luxurious and highly wearable collection, handmade by artisans from around the world but with an eye firmly focused on combining the best of British and Italian style.

Carmina calfskin Uetam loafers, $450, and Nackymade Ethan sunglasses, $495, both stocked at The Armoury
Carmina calfskin Uetam loafers, $450, and Nackymade Ethan sunglasses, $495, both stocked at The Armoury

Anglo-Italian is just one example of a global menswear trend that, over the past decade, has brought dozens of artisanal makers to worldwide attention. Grantham and Pirounis are former employees of cult store The Armoury, which launched in Hong Kong in 2010 and became the model for a new generation of specialist menswear stores – often centred around bespoke handmade products – that have sprung up around the world.

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The artisans these stores have collaborated with were largely unheard of. But that has all changed. A traditional manufacturer like Frank Clegg, for example, which makes sumptuous men’s bags (duffel, $1,025) and other leather goods in Massachusetts, now has a global clientele – as do brands such as Saint Crispin’s shoes, a tiny operation in Romania that creates hand-sewn footwear as fine as that of the best makers in the world. Bespoke tailors, meanwhile, use these new-wave menswear stores to hold trunk shows and extend their reach, meaning that Neapolitan maestros such as Dalcuore and Ambrosi have become popular as far afield as Shanghai, Manila and New York.

Jake Grantham, one of the founders of Anglo-Italian, which opened in Marylebone this summer
Jake Grantham, one of the founders of Anglo-Italian, which opened in Marylebone this summer | Image: Sebastian Boettcher

The story starts a decade ago, with Hong Kong residents Mark Cho and Alan See. Classic menswear was increasingly in vogue, with Scott Schuman posting pictures of sharply dressed Italians on his influential site The Sartorialist, and websites like Styleforum growing fast. Cho worked in international real estate and See in logistics, but both were devotees of fine tailoring.

Anglo-Italian suede bomber jacket, £870, and linen blazer, £990, and cotton polo shirt, £185
Anglo-Italian suede bomber jacket, £870, and linen blazer, £990, and cotton polo shirt, £185

Determined to follow their passion, they opened their own store – aiming to bring the authenticity, craft and customer service of fine tailoring to a Hong Kong audience that was dominated by global brands. “The difference in experience between a big-name designer and a bespoke tailor was so marked,” says Cho. “We wanted to connect directly with customers, to talk to them and understand their lifestyles – but sell crafted products from around the world, not just tailoring.”

Noos in Shanghai has a Savile Row feel
Noos in Shanghai has a Savile Row feel

The Armoury opened in 2010, on the third floor of a side street in Hong Kong’s Central district. There was no passing traffic, no window shoppers. But within a couple of years it had developed a global cult following due to the beautifully shot photography it posted on Tumblr of the staff out and about in Hong Kong, looking super-sharp and stylish. “I remember seeing those initial shots of The Armoury guys on the street. They made tailoring look elegant and yet so modern – the kind of thing you could wear and not look too traditional,” says financier Andrew Sassoon, now a regular Armoury customer in New York.

Hong Kong’s Attire House has a bar and barbershop alongside its menswear offering
Hong Kong’s Attire House has a bar and barbershop alongside its menswear offering

The Armoury offered Neapolitan tailoring from traditional houses such as Orazio Luciano and Ambrosi, as well as bespoke from Florentine tailor Liverano & Liverano. The Liverano style went down particularly well, thanks to its fluid silhouette with flattering shoulder line and flowing lapels. Master tailor Antonio Liverano is popular today with customers for his colourful, idiosyncratic style, as well as his large collection of heavy vintage cloths – often limited to just one or two jackets (bespoke suit from €6,500).

Anderson & Sheppard cotton pocket squares, from HK$450 (about £45), and Cifonelli yak-wool jacket, from about £3,420, both stocked at Attire House
Anderson & Sheppard cotton pocket squares, from HK$450 (about £45), and Cifonelli yak-wool jacket, from about £3,420, both stocked at Attire House

Craft manufacturers that were brought to prominence by the store include Japanese glasses firm Nackymade and Spanish shoe company Carmina. The Armoury still works with those brands today, with standout items including Carmina’s tassel loafer ($450) and Nackymade’s sunglasses with striking dinosaur-shaped arms ($495). New artisans are also being added all the time. A recent addition is Japanese brand Cohérence, which takes its inspiration from artists, writers and musicians of the past for its strongly silhouetted outerwear – such as a military-inspired trench coat ($1,750) known as the Al, after Albert Camus.

The Armoury’s third branch, in New York, was its first outside Hong Kong
The Armoury’s third branch, in New York, was its first outside Hong Kong

“All our artisans are united by a commitment to craftsmanship and traditional aspects of style,” says See. “Ortus, for example, is a bespoke Japanese leather-goods maker that sews every part of his bags by hand – and even makes his own hardware. The brand creates a handful of ready-made pieces every year exclusively for us.” Among the pieces currently on offer is a particularly fetching navy-bridle portfolio (HK$22,000, about £2,180).

Drake’s silk bow tie, $145, and Frank Clegg leather duffel bag, $1,025, both stocked at the store
Drake’s silk bow tie, $145, and Frank Clegg leather duffel bag, $1,025, both stocked at the store

The Armoury opened a second Hong Kong store in 2012, followed by a New York branch in 2013, which introduced an American audience to those Asian and European brands (Drake’s bow tie, $145). “I remember the week The Armoury opened,” says software executive James Stevenson. “Having seen so much online for years, all feverishly discussed on the websites and forums, it was amazing to have first-hand exposure to it all.”

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Within a couple of years, other stores with similar values had launched around the world – particularly in Asia. Brio, founded by former financier George Wang, opened in Beijing, Signet in Manila and WJ & Co in Kuala Lumpur. “In China the challenge was particularly great, as the demand for designer brands was so strong,” says Wang. “But the market is changing fast – and increasingly everyone wants the hidden brand, the unknown maker.”

In 2015, Australian Ethan Newton – who had co-founded The Armoury in Hong Kong with Cho and See – moved to Tokyo to set up his own store, Bryceland’s Co, in the vibrant Jingumae district. Although focused more on vintage clothing and American workwear, he offers some of the same brands. So Neapolitan tailors rub shoulders with his own take on 1940s jeans (Y39,900, about £280), and he sells silver accessories by Red Rabbit (from about £110), which are modern versions of American southwest jewellery. Newton, like many other owners of this new wave of stores, is in Bryceland’s most days, talking to customers and giving advice on how to wear – for example – the soft, lightweight neckwear (about £200) from Florentine artisan Seven Fold.

By late 2016, the Armoury-inspired trend had become global. Noos had opened in Shanghai and Oak Room in Taipei – among the current highlights at the latter being a range of shoes from Alden in the US, including the brand’s classic suede long-wing (T$19,000, about £500), and single-breasted suits (from about £510) by the Japanese company Ring Jacket. The finishing touches were being put on The Decorum in Bangkok, and there was even a new store in Hong Kong, back where it all started: Attire House combines a menswear offering with a bar and barbershop, as well as hosting some of Europe’s best bespoke tailors and shoemakers, including Anderson & Sheppard from Savile Row (pocket squares, from about £45) and Cifonelli from Paris (jacket, from about £3,420). There are also ties from E Marinella in Naples (from about £160), with their bright-pink foulards, and cufflinks (from about £100) from fellow Neapolitan artisan Gemellidapolso.

In autumn that year, Jake Grantham (at that point buyer at The Armoury in New York) left with Alex Pirounis. It is their vision of modern menswear that opened in Marylebone in May, under the name Anglo-Italian. The store has a friendly, atelier vibe. Grantham and Pirounis are there every day, keen to talk to every customer individually and explain the story behind each piece of clothing. The content of their rails bears many similarities to that made so popular by The Armoury, including Italian tailoring with lightweight construction and soft shoulders, in subdued shades of brown, blue and grey. The jackets (ready-to-wear, £990; made-to-measure from £1,420) have a tiny hint of rope in the shoulder, a three-roll-two button configuration, patch pockets and a generous lapel. Polo shirts (£185) in navy and grey have been designed to be worn with the jackets, with a tailored fit and two-part collar – more similar to a dress shirt than a regular polo. The fact they have button-down collars also lends them a subtle preppy look.

Anglo-Italian’s scene-stealing pieces are, however, the suede bomber jackets (£870), which are available in tan and dark brown, cut in an aviator style with patch pockets and a high collar of ribbing that can be flipped up or down. Like the tailoring and the shirts, they are also available made to order in seven different suedes, zip or button front, and with simple changes to the pattern such as body and sleeve length.

“One of the great things about working with the artisans we’ve got to know over the years is that we can do made to order, or made to measure, very easily,” says Grantham. “That goes for most things, from the shirts to the jeans.” Those jeans (ready-to-wear, £240; made-to-order, £280) also mix well with the rest of the collection. With their slim, tapered cut, they are just as neat as the polos and jackets.

This versatile approach to clothing was always a strength at The Armoury and continues at Anglo-Italian. Nothing looks traditional or stuffy, everything transitions seamlessly from the office to the bar in the evening and looks elegant without necessarily being dressed up. But the collection does have one marked difference from what came before. Rather than stock pieces by artisans from Italy, Scotland and Japan that Grantham and Pirounis had got to know so well, they worked with them to create clothing that is all sold under the Anglo-Italian brand.

“That move was very deliberate,” says Grantham. “We had grown up offering brands from some of the finest craftsmen in the world, bringing them to global attention and educating men about their value. But everything at Anglo-Italian is very much our ideas and our designs. It is our collection, rather than a curation of other peoples’.” So the store’s tailoring is all handmade in Naples, in a workshop the pair know can produce wonderfully soft suits and jackets, but Grantham and Pirounis’ design input is reflected by the presence of an Anglo-Italian label. The jeans too use denim from an artisanal mill in Okayama, Japan – but with washes selected by the Anglo-Italian team.

This, then, is the next phase in the story. Independent menswear shops taking everything they have learnt from the world’s finest artisans, but developing their own collections and often working with those very artisans to make them. The young men who started out developing their tastes a decade ago on websites such as Styleforum, A Suitable Wardrobe and my own Permanent Style are finally growing up and becoming designers themselves.

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