Shoe Club: Mark McNairy
We recently caught up with Mark McNairy, the soft-spoken—and with a Southern accent—undesigner behind New Amsterdam and his new Urban Outfitters collaboration, Good Souls.
How did you become interested in fashion?
Hmm, how did I become interested in fashion? Or how did I become interested in clothing and apparel? I don't like to think of what I do as fashion. I'm more of an undesigner than a designer and I make interpretations of classic items, classic apparel and workwear. Does that make sense?
Why does the word fashion have a bad connotation for you?
It doesn't necessarily have a bad connotation, basically the things that I make can be worn for the rest of your life.
So how did you become interested in clothing and apparel?
It started with sneakers and athletic clothes when I was in junior high school, and then I guess it progressed into an interest in vintage clothing. Shopping at thrift stores when I was in high school, for vintage military chinos and Brooks Brothers button-down shirts.
Where did you grow up?
Greensboro, North Carolina. The Junior League bargain box was the best place, especially for the Brooks Brothers shirts, the whole Junior League preppy thing. North Carolina was extremely preppy. Chinos, Oxford-cloth button-down shirts, saddle oxfords, white bucks, dirty bucks, ribbon belts, regimental-striped ties.
Did you like stuff better if it was vintage?
Yes, and I still do. I make most of my clothes, but basically the only clothes that I buy now are from vintage shops. I don't really shop at vintage stores and pay premium prices. For me, the thrill is the hunt and digging through, searching for something. I certainly don't need anything.
Where are some of your favorite thrift stores?
Anywhere I go. If I go to Miami on vacation, there are some times I pray for rain so I can get off the beach and go to the thrift store. That's just as much fun for me. I live in New Jersey now, so on the weekends, my wife and I go to the Meadowlands Flea Market, which is a huge, junky yard sale.
What was your first job in apparel?
Selling cheap ladies clothes on the road in North Carolina and Virginia. A traveling salesman. It was horrible. I couldn't take that anymore and I had always wanted to come to New York, so I came up for a couple of days, went to the garment district and handed out resumes. Then I got a job in sales. As far as making clothing, I learned how to do it just by hitting the streets and going into the factories.
How did you gravitate toward shoes?
I was at J.Press and to tell you the truth, I had been there for four years and wasn't sure if they were going to renew my contract. So I started planning to do my own collection, just working on it in my head. It just so happened that I had done a shoe collection for J.Press that only lasted one season, but the guy in England who had made the shoes came to town, and he was having a shitty day and called me to have coffee. So we just started talking. I wanted to start my collection, so thought why not start with shoes?
What was the idea behind New Amsterdam?
The whole idea was to do a collection of White Bucks and Dirty Bucks, and saddle shoes. Because they were really hard to find. Classic, but nobody was making them. So I did a whole collection with the red brick bottom, which I called Red Brick Sole, and there were other shoes, the same type shoes, but with leather soles.
How does this translate into Good Souls, the exclusive collaboration you're doing with Urban Outfitters?
We wanted to do affordable shoes for young people who can't afford my English shoes. It's the same idea as my other shoes and apparel: classic, Anglo-American footwear.
What designers do you admire?
Ralph Lauren number one. He's the best of the best. Commes des Garcons, Junya Watanabe. I knew Sean Stüssy a long time ago, not very well, but we've recently become reacquainted. We're actually doing shoes together, a collaboration, with his S Double line. But I remember buying Stüssy clothing in college, in 1980, and he may be the reason that I ended up making clothes. He's not that much older than me, but at the time I was 18 years old in college and he had already started a clothing business. His clothes were surf-inspired and sold in surf shops, but they were not normal surfwear. He actually told me when he was here a few weeks ago, he was originally a surfboard designer and he was going to Japan and he got introduced to Commes Des Garcons and that's what inspired him. So I would have to add him to the list.