Entrepreneur / HONG KONG
While his keen eye for handcraft is renowned, his entrepreneurial path also reveals a profound appreciation for innovation.
As the Owner of The Armoury and Drake's, two leading retailers and manufactures of all things elegant, Mark Cho knows his way around garments, but interestingly his passion (and collecting habits) extend to the horological world as well. Recently Mark sold a portion of his collection at Phillips to raise funds to expand his business. We sat down with him in New York to learn a little more about his passion for work, life and style.
photos: Elliot Hammer
Mark tell us a little about where your passion for design and craft came from?
My appreciation for design was seeded by my father. He spent part of his career developing homes in London and had a real passion for architecture, interior design, Art and objects. I think some of his passion for design rubbed off on me. It's been fifteen years since he's been gone and I look back on the things that he created with admiration. He really was talented.
As for craft, that came from my own love for tailored clothing. Learning how garments are made, working with craftsmen, living and selling their products day in and day out really improved my understanding of
craftsmanship. As you experience more and develop your eye, you start to grasp the nuances of what separates the ordinary from the great. Sometimes it's tangible, like stitching details and fine construction, and other times it's more abstract, like balanced proportions or an overall aesthetic.
"As you experience more and develop your eye, you start to grasp the nuances of what separates the ordinary from the great" ...
Now, you own The Armoury and Drake's, how do the businesses harmonise and differ?
They differ more than harmonize. Drake's is the evolution of the original founder Michael Drake's taste and has for the last 12 years been under the creative direction of Michael Hill. Its style is best summarised as British but using the colours of Italy and France. Quirky but sophisticated use of colour and cloth has always been a big part of the Drake's story. As a rule, I do not get involved with the product design at Drake's. We primarily manufacture in the UK and in the EU where we can. We also own our own necktie and shirt factory.
The Armoury's first love is tailored clothing and the things we design, make and sell are aimed at people who like tailored clothing. So while we make some great sport coats, we also have our own unique take on things like the safari jacket or the blouson. Unlike Drake's, which has a singular vision, The Armoury is more of a hodgepodge of different styles and priorities. Some of it is my taste but I am also joined by several key people in the company and we develop the collection jointly. In terms of production, we love to go everywhere looking for great things. The majority of our goods are produced in Japan and Italy and we also have some Spanish, French, American and HK production depending on the product. We have a very heavy emphasis on custom goods and as a result, there isn't as much need to have a very specific "look".
Where the two businesses harmonise is ultimately we all support men wearing great, timeless clothes. We love our jackets and ties but we also love our jeans and coats.
Growing up, did you always know you were going to make a career around your passions?
No, I consider myself very lucky to be in this position. Growing up, clothing was a captivating hobby but I thought I would probably end up in something less creative and more business focused. Somehow, the stars aligned and I had a shot at doing what I do now and I've loved every minute of it.
I was able to watch my father at work for so much of my life and it profoundly affected the way I think of work. I remember that while he might occasionally complain about his work, I could always tell he loved it and never resented it. I could see the satisfaction it brought him. I was often doing the bare minimum in school but never so in work. Every day, I find my own satisfaction.
How has the clothing industry evolved over the last decade?
There has been a huge amount of change over the last decade. As you have probably noticed, the way people dress has changed dramatically especially because of the last few years of Covid. Many of the old dress codes have become irrelevant and people are dressing more casually than ever. In the industry, that has huge knock-on effects. For instance: ties, leather dress shoes and tailored clothing have all seen quite a big shrinkage in sales volumes.
Amidst the chaos, there is always opportunity. Frankly, I am glad to see change in the way people dress. It forces everyone to think about new materials, new styles and new ways of living. The Armoury and Drake's will rise to the challenge.
Tell us a little about a typical day for you?
My days are quite varied. I spend about 75% of my year on the road. I shuttle between my shops and my production partners around the world on a regular basis. If I'm in Hong Kong or New York, I try to be in the shops or the office by about 10.30. I take care of VIP clients from time to time, otherwise I am busy with internal matters or product development and I spend a fair amount of time on calls late at night to speak to other time zones. I usually wrap up work around 1am.
When are you most inspired?
Every place gives you something different. Italy and France have a deep love for beauty. Japan has a deep respect for craftsmanship. The UK is steeped in tradition but London has a certain rebelliousness that is amazing. New York and Hong Kong are intense. Honestly, these days it's not so much a lack of inspiration as a lack of time and focus.
"Ressence watches are novel in shape, construction and complication, I am a big fan."
How do you view the passing of time and legacy ?
I think as you get older, you start to realise how little time you have and how much you need to prioritise. You'll never learn it all or do everything you want to do so you have to pick and choose. As for legacy, at some point, you have to learn to just be content.
When did you first come across Ressence?
The Armoury in Hong Kong was neighbours with a great independent watch store called Lavish Attic and they were one of the earliest retailers of Ressence. I used to pass by their shop window multiple times a day and they were always fascinating. Ressence watches are novel in shape, construction and complication, I am a big fan.
Many will know that you have been a watch lover for sometime, what drew you to Ressence?
I am paraphrasing my friend Phil Toledano: Ressence has been very successful in creating its own design language which is an incredibly difficult thing. Nobody would ever mistake a Ressence for something else and I really admire that level of skill in design. Beyond that, the soft, organic shapes mixed with the futuristic references really appeal to me.
You own the Ressence x Alain Silberstein “Carpe Diem”. What’s it like to wear? What are the design touches you most enjoy?
It's fabulous, one of the most interesting watches I have ever owned. It wears a little smaller than you expect which is good for me. The colours are extremely strong and vivid. The overall design with the skull and rose as a reference to memento mori is incredibly well executed. I love the form of the case and crystal. The winding and time setting mechanisms are ingenious. If there were one request to Benoît, I hope he one day considers a 36mm size.
Do you have any specific memories with it on the wrist?
I always think of my watches alongside my clothes and that watch reminds me of the summer, when the colour palette of the watch sits well with the bold, bright colours of a summer wardrobe.
What’s next for you personally and professionally?
It's still under wraps but I am working on a retail mall concept in Hong Kong for my landlord. I think there's a real dearth of calm, sophisticated spaces when it comes to retail and hopefully what I'm working on fills that gap a little. More details in future!