Kings And Aces: Mark Cho, the visionary co-founder of The Armoury, tailors an entire floor of luxury shopping in Pedder Building
Two consecutive weekends of typhoon and heavy rain have halted The Armoury team who were working non-stop to finish their new home on the fifth floor of Pedder Building in Central. It’s close to 3 pm and Mark Cho moves along his shelves and racks of canvassed Savile Row-style suits, bench-made shoes, crisp shirts, neckties and much more in a kind of reverential awe. The 40-year-old, internationally known as the co- founder of The Armoury, co-owner of Drake’s haberdasher and director of the Pedder Arcade, meticulously checks the smallest of details, including the spacing between the textile canopy of the shop ceiling.
“Give me 10 minutes,” he says. “I just need to finalise a few things with our interior designer, then we can start [the cover shoot].”
It feels like a tacit invitation to explore the whole floor of what will become the Pedder Arcade. Cho is the director of the much- anticipated project – a pitch he delivered to the Pedder Building landlords during Covid – to create a shopping arcade that will resonate with the ones in the UK, complete with a café and dapper essentials boutiques that will become a one-stop destination for lounging and shopping.
Scrolling along the floor-to-ceiling shelves, Cho pulls out, using one hand, his selection of six different looks for our cover shoot, and in the other hand holds his go-to energy booster, a Venti Iced Americano.
At first, Cho may look like your typical businessman – oftentimes he puts on a serious face and dresses like a geezer. He has a cool composure that could read as seriousness, or perhaps he’s just drained from the weight of arcade preparation he and his team have shouldered over the past two years. Yet, he pushes through, like he has always in his life, and makes things work despite the situation.
“I was originally a womenswear designer, but my parents wanted something more of a conventional career path for me. It’s an Asian thing, I know,” he says. “And so, for a few years, I worked in the banking industry. But then life has its way of bringing you to where you are supposed to be. A place where your passion really thrives. And 13 years later, I am still doing what I am really passionate about – tailoring and dressing people.”
King of uncool
Born in the UK and simultaneously calling Hong Kong, the United States and the UK his homes, the Brown University alumnus confesses he was a bit of an outsider during his formative years. On his Instagram account, one can read and question the bio line that says ‘Making uncool uncool again’. Giving a very vague explanation, he says: “Perhaps that’s what I do best?” he gives a side smirk and at the same time a little shrug. “Growing up, I was like a mongrel because I moved around a lot.”
Moving to a more serious note, he passionately articulates the inspiration he derived from the Japanese fashion entrepreneurs and creative directors of the ’70s to the ’90s, such as Hirofumi Kurino, Yasuto Kamoshita, Osamu Shigematsu, Kenji Kaga, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. He sees them as a sort of God-tier in the world of style – strong personalities with no existing playbook to follow who basically figured things out on their own and set the tone for the fashion of their entire country, as well as having a knock-on effect throughout Asia.
For Cho personally, though, it was the other way around – from Asia to New York. In 2013, having successfully become classic menswear retailers in Hong Kong, with their initial 2010 shop in Pedder Building joined by another in The Landmark, he and co-founder Alan See established The Armoury New York. They honed their abilities to design collections in-house and now have a unique selection of products that are exclusively under their brand.
“Our vision is to teach people to appreciate classic style and tailoring, to offer an enjoyable and personal customer experience, and to encourage people to buy less, buy better and appreciate their clothing,” he recaps.
Taking the fifth
The Pedder Arcade passion runs deep. Almost part of Cho’s branding at this moment, it subtly informs the classic yet stylish aesthetic he has steered at The Armoury. And just as the Pedder Arcade will orbit around different players housed along the length of the fifth floor, Cho is the centrifugal force of his own creative team. His sense of dialogue and open-mindedness are evidently what makes him and his brand tick. Moreover, his ultra- responsiveness makes him the greatest ally on both strategic and creative fronts.
“Expressing yourself through clothing is very important,” he says. “People need to be who they want to be. Expressing yourself through fashion is difficult because it changes faster than you yourself might change. You can be in fashion for a moment and then out of fashion the next. Or, you can be a slave to fashion and chase it forever.”
The entire floor, best described as somewhat similar to the hallmarks of the tailor shop in the film Kingsman, is poised to be elegant, modern and romantic, with prices in the upmarket apparel boutiques ranging from HK$10,000 to $30,000. But as a thinking millennial, Cho is pragmatic, too.
He says: “I don’t see fashion as exclusive to the rich and famous. If anything, there are so many wonderful deals to be had if you’re willing to use second-hand or old stock. If life is going to be a competition, then you can always compete with your imagination instead of your wallet.”
Time is prime
A man of many interests, Cho is in a permanent state of doing. Just recently, he was on a Discord chat about watches hosted by an international publication, in addition to the challenges of making a curated shopping arcade come to life before mid-October. He works at weekends too, which is why, he thinks, he could use a little help via a superpower to freeze time.
“Ah! It must be nice to stop time even for a while. I never had enough time,” he says, while wiping his glasses, finger-brushing his hair and straightening his suit and tie ready to face our camera.
With the help of his takeaway iced coffee, Cho negotiates our six-spread photoshoot without a single flinch, even suggesting which lens would work best for each angle.
In between effortlessly poses, including lounging on a newly delivered leather couch, he has a word of encouragement for our production team: “When you have a vision, you just have to stick to it and make it work.” As the camera clicks its last shot, he immediately shakes everyone’s hand before attending to another appointment.
And unlike Kingsman’s heroes, Cho, The Armoury and the Pedder Arcade’s services are now far from being a secret. They all ace the dapper gentleman lifestyle with the right attitude, commitment and excellence.
Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: The Pedder Arcade