On a cool-kid block of the Lower East Side is a white shop that is so meticulously orderly, it might make your head spin. Envelope clutches rest upon a white piano. Minimal gold rings sit beside crystals on the countertops. Shoes are perfectly paired on the floor. Of course I'm talking about Assembly New York. The child of Greg Armas' love of fashion and art, Assembly New York is an aesthete's wet dream. Not only is it a clothing store, but it's also its own label, launching womenswear at fashion week for fall 2012. With his calm demeanor and soft-spoken nature, Greg Armas is the thoughtful brains behind Assembly New York's success. I sat down with him to discuss his budding business and exactly how he makes it in fashion today.
Fashionista: How did Assembly New York, the store and the brand, come to exist? Greg Armas: Originally it was a continuation of a store I had in LA, called Scout Los Angeles. October, three years ago, is when I started Assembly NY. It was originally two doors down, and then October of last year we moved into this location, and it really grew into a men’s and women’s store. When Assembly opened it was pretty much for the guys, but then we started getting more and more women coming in and buying the mens stuff, so when we moved we decided to do both.
What inspired your move from LA to New York? LA has a certain speed, which is great for living, but for work and breaking new ground and getting things done, I felt like I was running through molasses sometimes. At the time, it just seemed like all my direction was to be here. I guess I came here to make it big, like everyone else. [laughs]
Did you have any previous design or business experience before? No. I mean I owned the store in LA, but I have no particular design knowledge. I do have an art background, I actually had galleries before I opened a fashion store. The design is really new to me. That process was like learning backwards, learning from the clothes. I’m fortunate enough to be able to surround myself with knowledgeable people and assemble a really good team to fill in all the gaps.
How do you balance your time between– I don’t. It’s a total train wreck. Next question. [laughs]
Well if you had to balance your time between owning a store and designing for a label for the store, would it be a 50/50 relationship or just a lot of everything? It’s 100% for sure. I don’t know if they balance yet. It’s more like a boulder rolling down a hill. When I’m not buying for the store I’m designing the line. It runs into each other, so I wouldn’t ever design something similar to something I’m buying.
What’s a typical workday like for you? I get up in the morning, have coffee, and head straight to the store to meet with the sewers to review. By 11am the shop opens, so I'm occupied with accounting, paperwork, answering questions, and following up with employees. I get lunch at the grilled cheese place around the corner – they don’t deliver, but they’ve learned to deliver for me. The shop closes at 9pm which is when I can start my more creative processes. I stay here late at night because I can’t really have my creative studio time with all these people around. So that goes from 9 o’clock until whenever. And then it starts all over again. It’s never not been a full time job.
What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced? I’m the captain of the ship. No one else is in charge. That part is really challenging. People are looking at my decisions and attitudes, and the more people you’re accountable to the more you have to be doing things, even if you really don’t feel like it for yourself. There really has to be a balance between myself and the team.
What’s the biggest risk that you’ve taken business-wise? I guess opening up in New York, because you can fall flat on your face. Launching the women’s line feels like a risk, too. It's the most outside of myself because I’m not a woman, as dumb as that sounds. It's about being conscious that the clothes are not for me to wear, they’re for somebody else, but trying to retain my sensibility. That’s been the scariest and hardest thing.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job? It goes back to the people. I just feel thankful, and grateful, and amazed by the people that are attracted to my shop and whom I get to work with. If you do a good job, it’s more than just you, the whole team gets to benefit.
Who is your dream customer, living, dead, or imaginary? Imaginary? So it can be like Tilda Swinton with Ghandi’s brain? I guess it would have been really nice to have Ian Miller from Joy Division to come in and buy a coat. I always appreciated his style growing up. The other ones have actually happened, people like Patti Smith and Lou Reed.
I was going to say, Patti Smith would blend in with your store perfectly. But they’ve all come in. I didn’t even know I was talking to Lou Reed. He hung out in the store for like two hours, and all of a sudden I realized. And we were like playing the Velvet Underground in the shop at that moment.
What do you see in store for Assembly in the future? Launching the women’s collection has been in the works for a long time, so establishing that is a short term goal. Getting a nice foothold into retailers across the board and doing a second location in LA are on the longer scale. And then some vacation time for me.
I think vacation time is on everyone’s list for the future. It’s kind of the forever dream that keeps all self-employed people going.
Assembly New York is located at 170 Ludlow Street in New York and online at www.assemblynewyork.com