Greg Armas already has the country bookended with his Assembly stores on Ludlow Street and Melrose Avenue. He’s now looking for two more to balance off both coasts.
Armas is the former gallerist who opened the boutique Scout in 2003. That was followed by the opening of Assembly New York in 2008, then in the next few years first with men’s ready-to-wear and then a women’s line, both of which share the store’s name. Last year saw the opening of the second store in Los Angeles and now Armas is looking at a second door in New York and one more on Los Angeles’s east side — likely in Silver Lake to accommodate the growth of the Assembly brand.
“When we launched the shop, we didn’t have the [Assembly] collection,” Armas said. “So I started the collection a couple years after the stores and now Assembly is our number-one selling brand, but it wasn’t our story. It was all about these other designers because my background is in galleries and so once Assembly launched, it took maybe a year, year-and-a-half for it to become our top-selling brand and now it is by a landslide, but it wasn’t obvious for us — that story as well as building a vertical line within retail.”
Armas draws on his fine arts background creating thoughtful, tranquil retail spaces with more than 70 brands from jewelry to shoes, bags and accessories. Apparel from Kahle, Black Crane, 69, Shaina Mote and Robert Geller are a sliver of the brands featured there.
“The American level of design in the past two or three years has really come up,” Armas said. “I used to have to go to Paris [to buy].”
Armas, whose speech comes at breakneck speed, is chock full of insights on not just his business but the broader retail market that allows him to pivot and refine his strategy with changes in the marketplace.
“To be honest with you, I watched the bottom fly out and it was because the marketplace changed,” he said. “We weren’t an Instagram-driven brand. Buyers were like, ‘Look if you don’t have 100,000 followers we’re just probably not going to pick [your line] up because that’s why we’re buying from you. We’re buying your niche audience.’ We have that but we’ve always been discreet. We’ve always been adult: 40 [years old], not 14. All these little sayings that we have. Of course we want for people to know what we’re all about but we’ve never done a lot of celebrity alignment. It’s been about the clothes and about the experience. The cover of magazines and Instagram, that whole world of being really flashy, has never been a part of us and it’s getting more like that, even on the buying level.”
That led the company to divert the attention it was spending on the Assembly wholesale business to now operating more subtly, under the radar. Although, it’s more than happy to accommodate buyers and fulfill orders out of New York, where the line is produced.
“We do the shows. We have the shops. Come and get it. We’re happy to make you whatever you want, but to bend over backwards and try to make our brand fit in the marketplace was like bad dating,” Armas said. “You’re just literally fishing out of the wrong pool.”