Though widely considered the epicentre of the North American garment trade, New York has (for a long time) lacked a community of more cosmopolitan menswear makers. Trade heavyweights from the East Coast set the tone there, with American sportswear the lingua franca of the city’s eminent classic styles.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of culturally diverse influences in NYC’s iGent community. This is best encapsulated in the arrival of Antipodean stalwarts like P Johnson Tailors, and of course the best that East Asia has to offer courtesy of The Armoury Hong Kong.
With a focus on more sustainable and artisinal products, The Armoury NYC hosts its own rakish specialists who know and love the American market. Jeffrey Hilliard, who goes by the dramatis persona ‘J Hilla’, is one such individual. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jeff for a few years now. Like many of menswear’s more appealing personalities he came to the industry via roads less travelled. An affable and genuine sort, the man represents a new generation of industry consumers. Those who are well informed, and with an unquenchable wellspring of passion for the craft attached to classic menswear.
It has been two years since The Armoury set up shop in North America’s sartorial heartland, and we at TVG took this opportunity to shoot straight with one Jeff. What follows is a short conversation about one man’s descent into the industry, cultural discovery, and (as always) some invaluable style advice.
TVG – Jeff, at what point in your personal life did you become interested in menswear? Did those interests dovetail into what would eventually become a career at The Armoury in New York?
JH – Originally, I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I went to school at The University of Michigan and at the time I was studying Finance & Economics. After a few years post graduation at a financial software firm, I moved to New York and started some friendships within the menswear industry. I simultaneously began developing my interests online, and took night classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). A friend of mine later introduced me to Mark Cho and after a few meetings he offered me a position with The Armoury location in NYC.
TVG – In hindsight, how have you found that experience? Working with some of the most recognised faces in #menswear must have its kicks.
JH – I always joke that I was probably one of The Armoury’s earliest internet fanboys. They have always been incredibly important to me – I credit them with helping to hone what I really appreciate about men’s clothing. Getting the opportunity to work with Mark and co has been a dream come true and I continue to learn things every day from multiple facets of the business.
TVG – Considering you come from an econ & finance background, was wrapping your head around something so different challenging? Are there any skills that crossed over?
JH – The difficulty came in trying to convince myself that everything would be fine in the event that I switched professions and things didn’t work out. I think it’s fair to say that uprooting from a comfortable place is always difficult. My skillset wasn’t necessarily incompatible, but life changes were required in order to properly adjust. But I’m glad to say that I made the jump and I’ve never looked back.
TVG – Stop me if this sounds incorrect – you’ve travelled to East Asia three times since you joined The Armoury family, yes? For our readers in particular, Australia’s positioning within the Asia Pacific has always been important. Did your experience in our corner of the world affect you in a notable way? Culturally and vocationally speaking.
JH – I’ve travelled to East Asia twice. The first time was to Hong Kong for several weeks. And again, earlier this year to Japan. These experiences were incredible for a multitude of reasons. My first time in Hong Kong was my first time in Asia, period. The trip hit me on every sensory level – culturally, aesthetically, professionally, and personally. I remember learning all I could about the fitting process in the shop (The Armoury HK), and then getting on a junk for some fresh seafood prepared five minutes prior. There was a lot to take in.
However, my trip to Japan really was the most eye opening. Everything about the culture resonated with me – the people, the food, the aesthetic, the Japanese way of living. I completely fell in love with Tokyo. Then there were Kobe & Osaka, so it’s fair to say I had an unforgettable experience.
TVG – I saw that you got the privilege to work with Men’s Ex. Menswear journalists in Japan are definitely the cream of the crop, were there any nerves in collaborating with them?
JH – Well, they were incredibly friendly and dedicated to their job so I wouldn’t say there were any real nerves. We had a lunch or two with their editors, and over the course of it the opportunity just popped up.
TVG – Seems like you kept busy. Did you get any time to hit some essential spots while travelling?
JH – Absolutely! In Japan, the choice is staggering so I’m not even sure if there’s a thematically sound place to start. It’s not menswear, but a visit to some of the metropolitan shrines throughout Tokyo is cool.
The shopping in the city is unlike anything in the world. There’s something for everyone, from small independents like Tokyu Hands and Edoya, to the big department stores such as Beams +. Then there’s the food of course – yuzu ramen at Afuri, sushi at Kyubey, yakitori anywhere really and a drink at Tender Bar.
TVG – If we can backtrack a little, what were some of the must-dos in Hong Kong?
JH – It’s a contentious debate but if you like dim sum (even a little) you must try Hong Kong’s most famous teahouse Luk Yu. Make sure you get the cha siu bao (叉烧包). Take a trip to and get lost amongst the wet markets, but bring a local if you do. If you can manage a visit to Hong Kong in the summer, make time for a junk trip. That involves a sunset voyage, sinking beers, and having fresh seafood late into the night. Also make some time to hike Victoria Peak and – it goes without saying – visit The Armoury!
TVG – Being that our readers are mostly blokes from more temperate climes (Australia) what are some of your best tips for staying put together in the heat, in a culture infamous for (over)relaxed dress standards?
JH – Good question – it gets pretty humid in New York in the summer as well. If you’re wearing tailored clothing, my suggestion would be to dress in seasonally appropriate fabrics, although it really depends on the person. For me, you can’t beat linen and high twist wool, especially if they’re in light colors and open weaves. Weight actually isn’t as important as colour and weave when trying to stay cool. And if you want to dress casually, then dress casually!
We have a pretty great line on casual tailoring at The Armoury, but we also appreciate that it’s not necessarily everyone’s thing.
TVG – Every iGent has their style icons. It’s an innocuous enough question but I’m always interested to hear everyone’s personal picks when this matter gets thrown around.
JH – I steal a lot of ideas for suits, fabrics, shoes, etc from old photos. I do my best to pull inspiration from these without copying them slavishly. If I was forced to pick a few contemporary individuals whose style I admire – besides those I work with of course – I’d include Simone Righi, Franco Minucci, Kenji Kaga, Yasuto Kamoshita, Toni Tanfani and John Wrazej.
TVG – You’ve mentioned a few very prominent Japanese buyers/curators there. What I’ve always admired about guys like Kamoshita is how they experiment with elements that never detract from their style as a whole. Is that indicative of a sort of wider genre mixing we’re getting in contemporary menswear?
JH – Even in the nichest sector of the business, trends are by their nature temporary. That’s particularly reassuring for us given that our focus is tailored clothing. It’s the one thing that will never go away. Having said that we all do a little experimenting. Lately I’ve really been digging banlon polos, more checked and lighter overcoats, and washed denim shirts. Then there’s solaro cloth, which I’ve been quickly coming around to lately.
TVG – Care to weigh in on some essentials that have longevity in every man’s life? For me, no interview is complete without this ultimate expression of personal taste.
JH – It’s simple. A good pair of jeans, a go to t-shirt, a solid navy (or gray) suit, a wallet that fits your lifestyle, and a simple watch. A modicum of artwork or furniture in the home is also recommended, as I find that always makes me happy.
I wouldn’t call them material essentials but I’ve also found a few simple rituals that are effective in everyday life. Travel, snowboarding, visiting the family, and of late a good workout. Wow, I guess I’m pretty boring.
Shop a selection of The Armoury’s North American & International products here.