• Collaborations: Assembly New York

    It's 3:30pm, and Greg Armas is running out the door for a bagel. He begins to apologize before conceding: there just isn't enough time.

    Scheduling a lunch break is bottom-tier priority for Armas, whose brand Assembly New York is in its seventh year of operation. Made in New York and still entirely conceived and designed by Armas, the line is founded around his tightly-developed collections that consistently explore the space where clothing can be both progressive and timeless, with an emphasis on fit, quality, and thinking ahead of — and largely outside of — trends. 

    This fall, two big projects are unfolding for Assembly — first, an expansion of the brand's Lower East Side outpost to Los Angeles. Second, an exclusive collaboration with Urban Outfitters, a denim collection that's the first in a series of capsules he will be developing for UO. In the calm before the storm, we spent an afternoon in Armas' studio talking about having faith in your own work, Assembly's "quiet authority," and the art of wearing all black. 
    Photography by Clément Pascal 

    First things first: how did a small-town Oregon boy become a designer of modern mens and womenswear?

    I'm from an agricultural logging town in Oregon. I was a skater kid, bored out of my mind until I was 17 when I graduated and moved to LA and started going to college. I was always into art and drawing, and right away teachers — who didn't know what to do with me otherwise — put a pen in my hand and were like, 'Oh, you're an artist.' So by the time I got to college I had technical skills I could stand behind and had even been showing a little bit. Then when I got to college I realized, 'Oh you don't have to be an artist' ; there are all these other conversations in the art world that I hadn't had exposure to growing up. I studied curatorial design and religion, and was also doing my own art installation pieces. Nothing that had to do with fashion. 

    But then I had a realization: I really liked the people I was dealing with, sometimes more than the art itself. Wanting to stay working with people and within this same vernacular, I moved into fashion. I had a friend who had a vintage store, and I came to him with a little bit of money and a concept. I said, 'I will buy new collections and curate them alongside your vintage.' And that was the store that became Scout LA [a retail concept store Armas operated from 2003-2008]. It was totally great, a big learning curve for sure. And it worked. That led to me selling that business, moving to New York, and opening Assembly. And it's still just me, founder, designer, it's pretty hands on. Officially I guess I am now creative director for whatever the title is worth. We are opening in LA by the end of the year. 

    Assembly is a very smart, conceptual line. Can you talk about designing a line with such a specific vision, and the role you see it fitting into in the larger scope of the industry? 

    For me Assembly has always been an art-driven line, with a singular vision that's meant to be intuitive and follow its own rules. It's not for everyone. But I think that is changing, there's more of a taste for that conversation now. Our specific view is becoming more relevant for a mass audience, which is great. 

    What's interesting now is that both sides of the scale, from low to high end, are equally accessible, at least digitally. Taste does not have to be dictated by your wallet.

    Was that accessibility something that interested you in the UO collaboration? 

    I think Urban Outfitters is constantly updating that relevancy; [it has] a history of getting people to pay attention to what's new and important. Putting our vision inside that was really interesting. We edited down our collection and purified it to produce a collection for UO that's just as forward as our main line. 

    This season in particular we start off with a denim-based collection, with mixed denim combined with fleeces, sherpas, and outdoor fabrics done in modern shapes. A lot of the denims are used to take a traditional form and bring some personality, timeline, and wear into it; it wasn't about reinventing the wheel. The collection also has a future-vintage feel, which is very much us. 

    'Future-vintage' is a great way to speak to whole concept of Assembly. 

    That's part of the Assembly DNA. It's very uniform-based as well, the idea of something you can wear a lot and a long time. With all the things we do, we're not creating editorial pieces. You're not meant to stand out. It shouldn't be the thing everyone notices when you walk into the room. It should be a more subtle, quieter conversation. It's kind of a heady phrase, but we have always talked about there being 'quiet authority' in what we make. 

    That's a very intentional distinction. 

    As a person is putting together their outfit, it's fun if you want to draw attention to yourself, but if not . . . it's a horrible thing to not know how much attention you are drawing to yourself. Like, 'Hey, you are wearing pink and green at the same time. You look like a Maybelline mascara bottle. You look like a piñata.' [Laughs.] 

    We edit more than we design. We want to offer those pieces where someone can wear a coat four or five times a week and get compliments on it but not because someone noticed right away. It was because, when someone was sitting next to them in the car, they really saw the details. Fit is also a big part for us. Some things are meant to be big, some are meant to be small. It's all part of the look. 

    You revisited some pieces from past collections in creating this new collaboration. It seems like a natural reaction with ever-evolving creative projects is to hate looking back at things you made a few years ago. What do you think?

    You just have to get over it. With Assembly, it's all me. It's always going to be that three years from now you look at what you made and it seems old. I don't mind it anymore…I try not to annoy myself. Instead, I just try to be conscious about it and be sure that whatever I'm contributing now is what I want. Then you'll look back and say, 'I understand why I was doing that.' 

    I have been working for myself for a long time. For better or worse, all I have is a reference of my own work; everything I've done has been 'because I wanted it that way,' so I have to look back and really own it. 

    Can you talk about your own personal style?

    I wear all black every day. 

    These really are great summer blacks. 

    Exactly. I used to wear a ton of color, but now I'm too distracted by anything other than all black or navy. All white is also nice, but that seems more celebratory. It's less of a statement than it is a weakness. I don't even try anymore, when I'm shopping I just say, 'Show me the black.' But there's so much detail in every garment! I'm just wearing black pants and a black shirt, but I trip out on like, the fact that this tuxedo stripe [points to his pant stitching] is blind-stitched. It's amazing. And I made this shirt that I'm wearing; it's double layered. There's enough in the details.  

    I also like to wear things over and over. That's what I like to make, what I mean by 'future vintage.' I love the things people keep, that they love…they get a special quality. A well-loved T-shirt, coat, pair of jeans . . . those things are worth the most value. 

    It's a really sociological approach to fashion.

    I didn't have any traditional fashion schooling. I have a huge interest in people. People and trends go through loops, and once you've gone through a couple loops — trends, colors, details, whatever; it's a song and you can figure out the next line and sing along with it. It's a cute way of explaining it but it works . . .  Now I'm going to finish my bagel.