Mark McNairy's Clothes Are Loud So He Doesn't Have to Be
Mark McNairy in his showroom. All photos by Conor Lamb.
A long line of young people, clad in jerseys and button down shirts, stretched outside the doors of Eyebeam down West 21st Street in Manhattan in anticipation of the Mark McNairy New Amsterdam runway show. Instead of being backstage, making the final touches on his collection, Mark was outside , casually smoking a cigarette in what looked like a Hanes white T-shirt and a pair of dark blue jeans. If I hadn’t seen him before, I might’ve confused him for one of the eager fanboys in line—not the designer himself.
The Backstreet Boys played in the background as attendees entered the repurposed art center and looked for their seats, while men with metal pails walked around serving up ice cold Heineken. Once everyone was settled and sufficiently buzzed, designer Greg Chapman kicked off the spring/summer 2014 presentation by marching down the down the runway sipping a longneck beer and holding an empty paint can, clad in a navy pant and blazer with a pair of classic-style saddle shoes with an aqua bottom. The beer guzzling set the tone for McNairy’s show, which unabashedly had no fucks to give.
Following shortly after Greg was street style veteran, Nick Wooster, who rocked a pair of zebra cargo shorts matched with a cobalt blazer. Mark’s daughter Daisy, was a highlight of the show, one-upping Greg’s boozing by flashing the crowd with a switchblade. And rap legend Pusha T was the surprise ending to the show, strutting down the catwalk with a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Hey, Hey, My, MY, Camouflage Will Never Die”—a notion Mark made clear with his collection. In addition to the camo covered menswear were military and sportswear inspired pieces splattered with polka dots, florals, rubber duckies, and ironic slogans.
The Mark McNairy New Amsterdam runway show for spring 2014. From the left to the right: Nick Wooster, Daisy McNairy, and Pusha T.
Upon exiting the show, cans of Cheerwine imported from Mark’s home state of North Carolina were set out for the taking. With such attention to detail—the drinks, the props, the high profile yet unconventional models—it was hard for me to believe that Mark hadn’t been obsessively preparing for his show when I met him for the first time just three weeks earlier.
My interview with Mark took place a month before fashion week, which is a time when most designers are scrambling to finalize their collections. However, Mark didn’t seemed phased in the slightest. Much like his designs, his way of doing things isn’t ordinary. His creative process is that he doesn’t have one. He doesn’t make a collection—instead, he simply puts together the things he likes. The energetic patterns he uses like the petite floral and ikat gingham are just things he happens to find. As for the graphics, he has no fucking idea how he comes up with those.
Maybe it is this nonchalant brilliance that has kept him at the forefront of the fashion game since before I was born. Mark has designed for companies like J. Press and Woolwrich Woolen Mills and his own line Mark McNairy New Amsterdam, in addition to numerous collaborations with brands like adidas and Billionaire Boys Club.
With a nickname like "McNasty," I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I met the man for a sit down. I didn’t want to waste much time chatting about his design process, considering he thought a lot of that stuff was bullshit. Instead I wanted to know how someone like Mark, became such a relevant and sometimes controversial designer.
His showroom was in an old building in the Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, built like a castle with stonewalls and dark intricate woodwork. It seemed like the perfect place to house his reinterpreted version of classic clothing. He entered the room in almost the exact outfit I would see him sporting at his fashion show a few weeks later.
Mark is a man of few words. He speaks with a light southern twang and a soft tone that was barely audible from where I was sitting on the couch adjacent to him. His icy demeanor was counterintuitive for a designer who adorns his garments with smiley faces and is praised for using crazy colors and loud prints. He wasn’t willing to give up much, but he did open up about how he hates Brooklyn and his years as a record collector. Here’s what he had to say:
A close up on one of Mark's latest garments in his studio.
VICE: So you grew up in North Carolina, what was that like?
Mark McNairy: Very regular.
How did you get into fashion living there?
There is no fashion. There wasn’t at that point. Everything was traditional menswear. My intro to clothing started with G.I. Joe when I was a kid and then it kind of turned into athletic apparel, when I started working at a sporting goods store.
Was anyone in your family into fashion?
No. It came from music and movies. I was always into all kinds of music. My music tastes are like my clothing—a mish-mash of everything.
So you were working at a sporting goods store. What were you wearing at that time?
When I was in middle school, in the mid-70s, I was printing my own rock n’ roll T-shirts in art class. I spent all my money on records. I guess in high school I turned to vintage clothing. There was nowhere cool to shop, so the natural thing to do was to go to thrift shops.
What were you looking for when you went thrifting?
Very preppy things like vintage Brooks Brothers shirts and military khakis. Basically, what I wear today.
Do you still enjoy thrifting?
Not as much as I used to. I never thought I would say that. Usually when I would take a vacation to another city that would be the first place I would go. But I have so much shit now, and I have seen so much stuff. I still go to the flea market on Saturdays, but I am not as obsessed about thrifting as I once was. I used to like shopping, but now I don’t give a crap.
A sharp pair of Mark McNairy New Amsterdam brogues inside of Mark's showroom.
You’re known for putting your own flare onto clothing, is that something you have always been doing?
That is kind of what I have done my whole career. I started in womenswear. There is no point in trying to create the perfect blue oxford button-down shirt because it already exists—Brooks Brothers. With my shoes, there was no point in trying to recreate the perfect country brogue shoe or boot because Trickers does it. My stuff has got to be a little different.
Some people say you are controversial. Do you think people have a hard time understanding your sense of humor?
For the most part, no—with the exception of a few uptight people who might not get it.
What influenced you to not take fashion seriously?
That has been my personality from the beginning. I am not sure. When you are a kid you obviously care what people think about you.
So now that you have your own line, can you be yourself?
I have had my own line my whole career and then I got the job at J. Press and everything was “no, no, no.” No one was willing to take a risk. I think that set the tone for me today—to do whatever the fuck I want. It wasn’t working at J. Press. They wanted me to bring in a new young customer, but they wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do. What I do now is probably a reaction to that.
What have been some of the most rewarding collaborations you’ve done?
The ones I have made the most money on... That’s not true. Keds was my first collaboration. To have my name on a pair of Keds… I wore those when I was a kid, so that was really cool. I guess the adidas thing has got to be the most exciting, because when I was in junior high and working in the sporting goods store, I collected sneakers. I had about 200 sneakers lined-up around my room. The Jabar Lo were my favorite, which is why it was the first shoe I worked on with adidas.
There has been a lot of hype around your collaboration with BBC.
It has been awesome working with Pharrell. That is my favorite collaboration, because it is ongoing and we get to work together.
That aesthetic is different, what influenced that?
Well I have always liked BBC and Ice Cream. It is very fun and colorful, but my collection is more subdued. The Bee Line gives me the chance to take my aesthetic and go a little wacky.
Gorgeous printed suit in Mark McNairy's studio.
Are you into hip-hop?
Yes. I listened to early hip-hop in the 80s—like Sugarhill and the kind of stuff that influenced the Clash. It was the gangster rap that I never got into. It was the content that bothered me. It was all about me, me, me. That just didn’t appeal to me. My brother who is, very narrow-minded in terms of musical taste—he likes Brit-pop or whatever—told me about Kanye. I was like, “What the fuck are you talking about? No thanks.” But then I started listening to it and I was like “Woah.” Then I found out about all of the things I had been missing out on.
What are you listening to now?
Travi$ Scott is a new discovery. I like Jay Z’s new record. I like Kanye’s record. I can’t fucking wait for the Danny Brown record, the new Riff Raff record, and the Pusha T record—those are the three I am waiting for right now.
Do you still live in the city?
No. I live in New Jersey.
Do you like it better out there?
Yes. I moved to New York to live in Manhattan. I hate Brooklyn. I have always hated Brooklyn.
Why is that?
I know now there are a lot of cool shops and restaurants, but I just don’t like it. Every time I go there I have a bad experience.
Do you design out of New Jersey?
I come to the city everyday to work. But, designing is coming up with ideas and that can happen anywhere. It could happen when I am at Wal-Mart.
Can you tell me about your Maseratis?
I like vintage. It is not Maseratis in general. I could give a rat’s ass about having a brand new Masareti. It’s about the time period, 1980-89.
Why that time period?
The design. The Quattroporte was the first four-door sports car. I fell in love with that car. It started when I was graduating from high school. Then they came out with the Biturbo, which I couldn’t afford either. I went to the dealership and asked if I could test-drive the Biturbo and he was like, “Son, this is the type of car the boss drives.” I was like, “Fuck you, you fucking asshole.” Those are really the only cars I ever cared about. Over the past couple years I have been looking for them and found them.
Have you found the exact one that you wanted?
The first thing I bought was a red Biturbo. Then shortly after that I found a navy blue Quattroporte, which wasn’t in great shape. Then of course I found another one that looked exactly the same, but was in pristine condition, so I bought that one with the intention of getting rid of the first one. But the first one is a lot faster and louder and I couldn’t part with it. Then I got the idea that it was not worth putting money into it to restore it to it’s original condition, so I would just cover it in MultiCam. Which, I finally did. I was going to do it before and then my daughter wrecked the car and ripped the bumper off.
So no more Maserati for your daughter?
She’s not driving those anymore.
Model backstage at the runway show.
Is there anything else you collect?
Do you still have your record collection?
No. In high school and college I had around 10,000 records, my dumbass moved them to NYC with my whole GQ collection. It was a really dumb thing to move to New York with 200 pounds of GQ magazines. I just kept adding to the record collection. I think I had like 20,000 when I finally let it go. I refused to deal with CDs when they first came out. The only thing I miss about records is the art. The album cover was part of the package, but now it’s so hard to read the credits on CDs and then when you buy an album on iTunes there are no credits.
Do you think your personal style is evolving?
The basis is set, but it is still going to change. Never say never. Except for Birkenstocks.
All photos by Conor Lamb. For more NYFW photos from him, check these out:
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