Woolrich Woolen Mills has appointed Mark McNairy to replace Daiki Suzuki as creative director of the men’s designer label.

This story first appeared in the May 27, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

McNairy’s previous design work includes the Ivy League clothier J. Press, the American tailor Southwick and collaborations with Bass Weejuns and Pro Keds. He will continue with his signature collection, Mark McNairy New Amsterdam.

Suzuki, who created the label with Woolrich licensee WP Lavori in Corso in Bologna, Italy, had a five-year contract expiring with the completion of the spring 2011 collection and helped recruit McNairy. Suzuki will refocus on his prize-winning Engineered Garments label.

Under Suzuki, Woolrich Woolen Mills was influential in the trends of buffalo check, woodsman style and American-made heritage. Its rustic plaids, compact wools and fur-trimmed parkas were a hit with editors, especially after a runway show held at Pitti Uomo in 2008.

With those trends near saturation, McNairy faces a challenge to redirect the brand in a relevant way.

“It’s not going to be red-and-black buffalo check — that I can tell you,” McNairy said. “I think I’ll end up adding a military aspect and some Ivy League. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, Woolrich had a sportswear collection that wasn’t necessarily geared for the outdoors and was more about the piece goods like Ivy League styles, duffle coats and things like that. It’s going to be a mixture of the things I love.”

McNairy is from an “extremely preppy” corner of North Carolina, where as a teenager he was already collecting vintage Americana. He and Suzuki are friends.

“When Daiki talked to me about doing this, I basically flipped out because maybe 15 years ago I actually sent a letter to the president of Woolrich to do this very thing,” he said. “I wanted to do a heritage collection. At the time, they weren’t ready.”

WP Lavori began dusting off Woolrich, which was founded in 1830 in Pennsylvania as a maker of utilitarian outerwear, with a premium subbrand strategy about 10 years ago, giving the name a new life in Europe and Japan, and more recently in the U.S.

Next July, WP Lavori plans to open a store in New York’s SoHo that will carry Woolrich Woolen Mills and the contemporary collection, John Rich & Bros. It intends to open five U.S. stores in two years, said Andrea Cane, creative director of WP Lavori. Cane gave his vote of confidence in McNairy’s knowledge of American style and American factories.

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