Mark McNairy is that rare creature in the world of fashion who does not take himself or his work too seriously. While other designers use lofty phrases to describe their collections, McNairy speaks bluntly, if at all, about his inspirations, and says his goal is “making people smile, smirk, or laugh.”
McNairy, 53, grew up in North Carolina. He lives in New Jersey, where he keeps two 1980s Maseratis, and works out of an office in lower Manhattan. Asked to describe his first sartorial memory, he said, “My mom [was] chasing me around the backyard, trying to make me wear a turquoise alpaca sweater with my initials that I made her buy for me, then refused to wear it, because it was itchy.”
He refined his nascent fashion sense as a teenager while working for a sporting goods store and combing through thrift shops. He especially liked old military garments and classic Brooks Brothers clothes, and those looks have continued to influence his collections.
He signed on as creative director for J. Press in 2005, a job he held, not always happily, until 2010. Asked to describe the experience, McNairy said, “A dream come true—which turned into a horrifying nightmare, because they would not let me do what they hired me to do.” In the middle of his time there, he started his own label, New Amsterdam, with a line of traditional men’s shoes (including bucks and saddle shoes), made in an old factory in Northamptonshire, England. He followed his entry into footwear with a men’s wear collection, which put a streetwear spin on the preppy look, all of it crafted in small factories throughout the U.S.
His spring output has the feel of the late 1960s and early ’70s, its references to hippie culture and the Vietnam years apparent in its many smiley faces, sunshine emblems, and camouflage patterns. “Basically, I am just kind of fantasy shopping for myself in my head,” he said.
Asked to describe the ideal New Amsterdam customer, McNairy replied, “Me. And anyone else who wants to join the club.”