WHAT ELSE? is a series for Highsnobiety by writer/director Paul Black. What’s it all about? Call it the “What Else Factor,” a person with something else besides the thing(s) he or she is usually known for. What else is on the cards? What else should we know? The style of each piece is spontaneous and intuitively responsive to the Voice of its subject at the time of the interview. Next up, Mark McNairy.
Mark McNairy doesn’t do denim. More on that later. For those who don’t know Mark’s work to begin with, maybe we should get you orientated by dropping the name Woolrich Woolen Mills – the hip, contemporary off-shoot of the historic American label Woolrich. At present, Mark is the creative director, responsible for making the current collection look almost too cool for school. It’s not though because it’s seeped deep in American tradition and Mark is a wiz at respecting that note while making it funky. He takes their fabrics, carefully considers the brand’s heritage and cultural context, and gives it a rich twist.
If not Woolrich, perhaps two of America’s most influential clothiers of the past century might tell you something: J. Press and Southwick. The former practically invented the Ivy League look. The latter has been bespoke suitor to many presidents. Mark was creative director of both. If those labels don’t do it, we’re definitely calling snap when we lay down his collaborations with Timberland, Keds and Eastland, and most recently Garrett Leight and adidas (McNairy x adidas “84-Lab” = McNasty).
Shoes are kind of where it all began for Mark. His Mark McNairy signature shoes are benchmade in the UK, the old-fashioned way by Sanders (est. 1873). In shoes he does what he does maybe better than anyone else doing contemporary shoes today: craft and tradition with that funky twist.
Mark McNairy is one of those hard-to-pigeon-hole regular guys who happens to be a visionary fashion designer. That sounds like there’s a ton of them. There ain’t. Nothing highlights this more than his own label Mark McNairy New Amsterdam. The clothes (hand-in-hand with the shoes) are singular, rich, colorful, fun, tailored, super well-crafted, flaterring, and totally accessible. New Amsterdam is arguably one of the most timelessly on-point looks of today. You can see the parallels with his Woolrich collection, but this stuff is just that much more individual – as it should be. It’s kind of eccentric but totally within the bounds of tradition and conservatism – enough so to get you looking clever, but not too self-conscious. It’s not “victim” fashion but it does have a Voice that says, “I am special.” It’s for men with the balls to say just that.
You wear Mark’s stuff selectively. You don’t over do it. Mark himself wouldn’t. He’s far too traditional and respectful of what you already have. He’s a well-mannered man from North Carolina, born in ’61, proud and honest dad of two. His stuff is informed by integrating great new ideas with that which must not be messed with. Denim, for example. Mark doesn’t do denim out of sheer respect and homage to Levi’s. The way he talks about it, it’s just obvious, “why would I do denim?” And I get it, because I, like Mark and many others, are from the pre-tech generation. Pong. He speaks to the purist. Don’t mess with Levi’s. Suffice it to say, McNairy x Levi’s is one of his dreams. Those are his words.
Mark is definitely sentimental. He has called himself a self-absorbed asshole, but to know him just a little tells you he definitely doesn’t take himself seriously enough to be self absorbed beyond the intense concentration he needs to make things happen, and brave enough to fight his corner for them. He has to fight his corner. He has no choice. He’s a leader. There’s no room to suffer fools. His vision and energy for what he creates, and the precious time he devotes to his family and friends, is his oxygen. Call it self-absorbed, but A, it doesn’t matter and B, it doesn’t read when you listen to him speak. For example, he explains in a very polite and discreet manner, what happened when one of the aforementioned traditional old brands hired him, but they actually didn’t get what he was all about and what he was saying – until he was gone. He’s totally cool about it. He seems to feel genuinely satisfied seeing how they caught up eventually and got with the programme. No hard feelings. He wants everyone to look good. As he says, he’s always learning hard lessons along the way, sometimes late and after the fact. He continues to be totally stimulated by the ever-ceaseless process of bringing his myriad ideas to life. He continues to be his own man, without compromise.
This so-called self-absorption might cause some friction but he’s a vociferous, self- taught, self-styled and outspoken ideas man who pays great attention to detail. He works flat out 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every school day, but no weekends, as a rule. Two days of rest is often when the brightest ideas come. “It’s all about ideas,” he says. “Just ideas.” That’s how he fits it all in. It’s not rocket science for him. It’s actually kind of simple to hear him speak about it and it shows in the clothes and shoes. He’s in demand because he’s really thinking about what you need, not just for Christmas. The shit is happy, thoughtful, never obvious. I might say craft and tradition with a twist. He says postmodern traditional.
So what else?
That’s kind of funny but there is more. Music. Mark wants to produce music. Music is perhaps more about what Mark is than clothes. That’s no big surprise for a true creative from the South. The impulse was strong back in the day, but the first doors to open were the fashion ones. Now the music is coming up again and he’s quietly making some moves. He’s a true collaborator and he’s going remake obscure hit songs from his childhood. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop, for example. He’s got Eric Clapton on board. His buddy Pharrell is up for it.
You know it’s going to happen.
WHAT ELSE? | by Paul Black – lifelong perpetual traveler of mixed(-up) nationality, award-winning writer/director (and sometimes producer) of film and television, devoted father, serious amateur photographer, opinionated Sartorialist, meditator, fan of eccentric visionaries with something else to say. www.paulblackfilms.com
- Photography: Thomas Welch for Highsnobiety.com