Though Mark McNairy just launched his eponymous footwear label, Mark McNairy New Amsterdam, last January, the veteran designer has been honing his classic aesthetic for decades. He started designing women’s sportswear for the label Finis in the late eighties, then moved on to create menswear for 68 & Brothers in the nineties. His preppy sensibility — a byproduct of his North Carolina upbringing — incited the interest of the traditional Ivy League brand J.Press, which named him creative director in 2005 in an attempt to attract a more youthful clientele. McNairy collaborated with Engineered Garments for spring 2009 and 2010, designing capsule collections of his signature English-made shoes. Since its launch, the New Amsterdam label has focused on footwear — including brogues, boots, loafers, and bucks — but he’s expanding into pants, shirts, and ties for spring. We chatted with the designer about the resurgence of prep, finding inspiration in thrift-store racks, and why he worships Ralph Lauren.
J.Press has been around since 1902 — obviously that’s a lot of history to contend with. What was your main objective when the brand brought you on?
When I started there, basically their customers were dying literally. Most of their main customers were in their 60s or 70s. My idea was to step back to move forward: to bring back all the iconic J.Press items, like the three-button sack suit and sport coat, Shaggy Dog Shetland sweater, ribbon belts, and bow ties. I wanted to bring it back to the days when men used to get dressed.
What made you decide to launch Mark McNairy New Amsterdam?
For most of my career I’ve had my own collection. J.Press was basically my first corporate experience. After I started doing shoes, I debated whether I wanted to do clothes again or not. But it’s in my blood, I couldn’t control myself. It evolved into a small full collection.
What’s the inspiration behind the collection?
It’s kind of a mishmash of American workwear, military, and Ivy League. Right now the look is in the Anglo-American–modern tradition: skinny khaki cargo pants, button-down shirts, navy blazers, and English shoes.
What kind of a person wears your designs?
Well, you can buy my shoes on the first floor at Barneys, which is where all the serious men’s shoes are, and you can also buy them at Alife. It’s fun for me to appeal to a wide range of guys.
Who are your favorite designers?
Junya Watanabe, Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments, and of course, King Ralph. Ralph Lauren is God, as far as I’m concerned; there’s never been anybody like that and there never will be again. Sometimes I don’t even want to make clothes anymore because they do it so well.
Where do you like to shop in New York?
I used to be a big shopper, but I’ve outgrown it. My favorite thing to do is go to the Salvation Army for inspiration. I have a huge collection of vintage Brooks Brothers button-down shirts — probably about 300 of them — and vintage military chinos.
How would you describe your personal style?
A mishmash of Americana. One day I’ll wear a suit, another day I’ll wear a ratty pair of chinos and a jean jacket. In my book, it’s all the same.
What trends are you appreciating right now?
That people are investing in a proper pair of shoes instead of wasting their money on disposable junk.
What’s one item you’re saving to buy?
I pretty much have everything I want. Maybe a Maserati Quattroporte from the seventies, which has been my favorite car since high school.
What should every guy have in his closet?
A pair of double monk strap shoes. It’s a very classic, elegant style — it just happens to be my favorite shoe of the moment.
What’s something you never leave the house without?
A Parker Jotter pen.