With an enviable Rolodex of artisans based around the globe, The Armoury’s trunk shows are the stuff of menswear legend. The events, which connect shoppers with these otherwise hard-to-find makers, have been a key part of the store’s experience. But now, faced with international travel restrictions, The Armoury’s trunk shows are going virtual for the first time.
In some ways the process isn’t wildly different: clients will still make appointments to visit one of the store’s two New York locations, where they will be assisted by staff. But the tailors, cobblers and other craftspeople who would have previously jetted across the globe to conduct fittings will now be present via screen. Digitally replicating such an explicitly in-person experience is not without its challenges.
“For virtual trunk shows, there are a number of issues,” says Armoury co-founder Mark Cho. “Firstly, there is the practical: how do you replicate a trained tailor or fitter’s hands in the presence of a customer? Thankfully, we have extensive made-to-measure experience at The Armoury, so our vendors are confident in our skills for measuring and fitting under their supervision over video.”
Just don’t expect it to function like your Monday morning Zoom call. Virtual trunk shows at The Armoury will feature enhanced lighting, a multi-camera system, and microphones.
“Our aim is to make a client in a virtual trunk show feel as close to being in the same room as the vendor as possible,” Cho continues. “This means using high-quality mics and high-quality video as much as possible, giving customers the freedom to move around without feeling the need to shout or feel uncomfortable. Luckily, we produce The Armoury TV and photography in-house, so we have some experience in how to make this feel seamless.”
To account for differences in time zones—many of The Armoury’s vendors are based in Japan—appointments will be available in the early morning or late at night. In addition, translators will be present in-store to relay client questions or concerns to the Japanese specialists on screen.
The Armoury held its first virtual trunk show with Pommella Napoli and Fox Brothers on September 25th. Other virtual trunk shows this season include Ring Jacket (currently running until October 10th, with a 15 percent discount on all orders), Japanese bespoke shoemaker Koji Suzuki (October 13th-24th), bespoke Japanese tailor Tailor Caid (October 16th-17th) and more vendors yet to be announced.
Merchandise manager Jim Parker says it’s taken clients a little time to get used to the virtual arrangement but, once the customer is comfortable, the desired feeling of a trunk show is achieved.
“This wall goes down and everybody kind of relaxes. It’s still a fun, relaxed atmosphere,” he says.
In some instances, it won’t just be the tailors who are remote, but the clients too. Clients who already have a bespoke or made-to-measure pattern on-file with the trunk show vendor—those who’ve previously placed an order—can attend a multi-way Zoom call with the vendor and Armoury staff to commission new pieces. Moving beyond the trunk show experience, The Armoury is developing a virtual equivalent of its Ring Jacket made-to-order program, aiming to have the service available to remote clients in early 2021.
The conditions of the pandemic necessitated virtual trunk shows, but they may not end with the crisis. Cho thinks they could have an expanded place in his business post-coronavirus, as a secondary option for clients who couldn’t attend within a trunk show’s scheduled time window, or who request a follow-up appointment after placing an order.
However, Cho is adamant that virtual trunk shows shouldn’t replace the traditional experience.
“Commissioning clothing and building a wardrobe is about human connection,” he says. “It should be collaborative and enjoyable. I think it is best done when everyone can be with each other in person.”
Realities on the ground mean it may be some time until The Armoury’s vendors can all physically return. But until that day, the shop is using every resource at its disposal to make the virtual personal.