The veteran designer who removed the stick from the rear end of menswear talks irreverent clothes, collaboration, and rap influences.

This feature appears in Complex's February/March 2013 issue.

Mark McNairy is known for infusing menswear with personality. As the creative director of J. Press from 2005 to 2009, he emblazoned neckties with skulls and crossbones to give the storied label a modern edge. His work for Woolrich Woolen Mills, Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club (the Bee Line collection), and his namesake label, Mark McNairy New Amsterdam, features that same wit and deliberate quirkiness. Take a look at the man behind the zebra-striped desert boots, gold-sleeved varsity jackets, and camouflage suits.

You’re known for tweaking traditional silhouettes with unconventional details. Where does your sense of humor and irreverent attitude toward classic menswear come from?
Most people in this business take themselves too seriously. I’m just having fun doing what I like to do. My clothes are fun but not funny.

 

Yeah, it’s a button-down shirt, but why put a monogram or a polo player on it? Why not have fun with it and put something that’s relevant today?

 

What was the thinking behind putting bright colored soles on dress shoes?
When a guy dresses up, his sole means of self-expression with color or design is a tie. Putting colored soles on dress shoes is the same idea.

Do you think camouflage as a menswear trend will ever hit critical mass?
No, it’s forever. It started with the hippies at Woodstock wearing army surplus as rebellion. Woodland camo came first, then desert camo and tiger stripe. It’s like a piece of art. It goes back and forth: Streetwear influences high fashion and high fashion influences streetwear.

Did that evolve into animal print? Your spring/summer collection features zebra-striped shoes and leopard-print shorts.
Leopard is an American sportswear print, but I started using it in my shoes. It’s not about just any print. There are good leopard prints and bad ones.

For your fall collection, why did you collaborate with New Era on quirky hats and a shoe with the company’s iconic logo?
I’ve been wearing a Yankees cap since I came to New York in 1986. I didn’t know what a “fitted” was—it was a cap, of course it was fitted. New Era is the best at what it does, so why try to make a hat myself when I can take the existing hats and make them mine?

How important is American production to you?
When I started 68 & Brothers that’s how it was done. I made clothes the same way they made women’s clothes in New York. Then all these streetwear brands started coming up. They were basically T-shirt brands. First they just printed shirts, and then they started talking about doing cut-and-sew, but it’s all computer-aided, design-driven clothing. There’s no soul to it. I like the roughness of “Made in America.”

Streetwear clearly influences Mark McNairy New Amsterdam. It’s cool that you printed “Purple Swag” on the chest pocket of a button-down.
Yeah, it’s a button-down shirt, but why put a fucking monogram or a polo player on it? Why not have fun with it and put something that’s relevant today? The connection to the streets began with the shoes. When I started this brand, I thought I’d sell to traditional men’s stores, but Union in L.A. stocked my stuff and street kids were growing up and wanting something different. I had no idea that would happen.

How did you become friends with Danny Brown?
The whole thing started with my brother. He asked me if I liked Kanye West, and I said, “What the fuck are you talking about? I hate that asshole.” I’d never listened to his music—I thought he was a dick. I finally listened and thought, “What the fuck? This is awesome!” A year later, my brother told me about Danny Brown. Selectism said his album was one of the five best from last year, so I checked it out and fucking flipped. I listened to it constantly for a couple months. I didn’t know what Danny looked like. Then I saw pictures and I started tweeting about him and he tweeted about me. It turns out his manager was friends with the guys at my PR company. I asked if he would do the lookbook and they hooked it up.

When did you develop your love for Maseratis?
I’m not a car nut, but the first car I fell in love with was the Maserati Quattroporte. That was in high school, and obviously I couldn’t afford one. When I graduated college, I went to the dealership in Greensboro to test drive the Biturbo and the salesman said: “Son, this is the kind of car the boss drives.” I was like, “Fuck you.” Anyway, the Quattroporte was the first four-door sports car, and it just stuck with me. I found the Biturbo in Queens on eBay, and I thought, “Why not?” Then I found the Quattroporte in New Jersey. Again, why not? Then I found the Chrysler TC Maserati. It’s a little black convertible that I bought for my daughter—sort of.