The prospect of interviewing a very jetlagged McNasty at 9.15 am is a particularly daunting one. Not only because he has a reputation for being reluctant to speak openly about his work, but because I am a massive fanboy and feel compelled to dress well for the occasion. It should also be noted that McNairy was deeply concerned about having to speak at CARBON 2014, where a day later he gave the most in-depth account of his life yet, telling the story of how he came to be the acclaimed and sought-after designer that he is today.
Photography by Sebastian Petrovski.
Last time ACCLAIM interviewed you, you’d just launched the first season of Billionaire Boys Club’s Bee Line. Now you’re a couple of collections deep with them, you’re back at Woolrich Woolen Mills, you’ve got your own lines, work with adidas and so on. When was the last time you had to reach out to someone to work with them?
When I had to? Off the top of my head it was Timberland, to do another one.
For Bee Line?
No. First I did my own collab for Timberland, then the Bee Line thing. Both of them were pretty good, but I had already come up with a second idea for another Timberland, but they’re kind of putting me on hold.
With the sheer number of collections that you do every year, every season, does that allow you to be more reckless or spontaneous or free in the design process?
It’s a nice outlet to have because I tend to come up with too much stuff. In my past I was known as Mr Sample because I just kept going, which is pretty much the same thing as I do now. I don’t really envision a collection in the beginning; I just start making crap and put it together at the end. So basically I just keep making stuff till the last minute and then the next day I shoot the lookbook. That’s kind of like the stopping point. That’s how it goes for Bee Line, [BBC] Black and Woolen Mills.
Are you able to draw the line at some point, or does someone have to do that for you?
It’s usually time. When I shoot the lookbook, that’s it. Although that doesn’t stop me either sometimes. After the lookbook I’ve got the runway, and I don’t want to put it together the same way I did in the lookbook. So I’ll keep on until the show but then sometimes it’s too late for sales so those things that I make will go into the next season.
All menswear designers get hit with the question of staples in the wardrobe and one thing you’ve said every guy should own is a charcoal suit. I would have thought most would say a black suit is the essential…
In my book, a black suit doesn’t even exist. I mean that’s where I’m coming from – Ivy League, the J. Press. It’s called a tuxedo, but I guess the times are changing.
How was it to design an all-black collection for BBC when your work generally work with so much colour?
It started because I was at Crye Precision in Brooklyn. They’re the company that make multi camo, so I was out there working on some projects for Bee Line. The first time I was there they were showing me around and at the end they took me to the warehouse to give me some pieces, but there was a whole section of black stuff and I was like “What’s up with that?” He was like “This is the same thing that we do for the military but this is for like SWAT teams.” Same bodies but all in black and I kind of left it at that.
There was like 30 OG Billionaire Boys Club accounts that had been supporting BBC from the beginning, but now with the change of guard, Roc Apparel was selling it new accounts. I wasn’t even involved in the regular BBC, but Bee Line was supposed to be that special thing for the OG accounts. Anyway, I came up with the idea for BBC Black. It was supposed to made in through the normal BBC channels [Japan and China] but it changed quickly because we started with the pieces being made in Brooklyn at Crye Precision.
In other interviews you’ve mentioned being influenced by Ralph Lauren and Brookes Brothers, but also Comme des Garçons. Do you like the duality of those as reference points: one being the traditional preppy American the other the deconstructed Japanese look?
Yeah, I have a strange mix of taste, in everything from music to clothes. I like Springsteen then sickening bubble gum pop too. To me Comme des Garçons was borrowing classics and—
[At this point a woman interrupts to ask for a light, and McNairy dutifully produces his Black Zippo emblazoned with the WWM FW14 logo.]
To me Comme des Garçons is the same design aesthetic that I have: taking classic things and fucking with them. She [Rei Kawakubo] fucks with them a little bit more than I do.
Yours are at least are at least a little bit more symmetrical.
The perception of you and your reputation comes from your presence at trade shows. And, while the nickname McNasty can’t help, do you feel like, in more recent times, the trade show has become a thoroughfare for something else, with all of the photographers and bloggers etcetera?
I guess it started because I don’t really want to be at trade shows. I’m content in my office or in the factory making things, so I’m trapped at a trade show for three or four days and I don’t want to answer stupid questions, do you know what I mean? But it is a kind of necessary evil. I mean I do like it at times – it’s getting kind of old now, but it’s good to work with customers I know.
In contrast, in your actual runway shows you seem to make a concerted effort to make that more casual and fun. Is that you separating the business from the pleasure?
It’s a show, for one thing, so it’s got to be somewhat interesting, I guess. Back to the beginning again – I don’t do a collection, per se; I make individual pieces of clothing that stand on their own. Do you know what I mean?
In my mind it’s about the individual item. That’s what I love about Ralph Lauren: it’s the actual piece of clothing, the khaki chinos, the button-down, the jean jacket. They stand on their own. What I can’t stand about Ralph is the marketing part of it, the outfits. It’s embarrassing.
I like to think I’m making stuff that people can buy and put together their own way. If I did make a cowboy boot I wouldn’t expect someone to buy a whole matching outfit. Ralph was on Oprah Winfrey on an interview with his family at his ranch in Colorado, which is cool, but the whole family is sitting there on the couch in cowboy outfits, which is just embarrassing to me. They look like a bunch of fuckin’ fools. When I put stuff on the runway, I’m mixing it: if I did do cowboy boots, I’d put it with a combat helmet.
I make all these samples and I hardly get to see them until the day before I do the lookbook or the show. So pulling all the stuff that I’ve made together – thats the fun part.
Has your new-found influence on hip-hop changed your approach to designing?
I still don’t really get it, but I’m glad. But I think what I do has absolutely nothing to do with hip-hop.
Is it more of a triumph that you’ve crossed over into an audience you never intended to win over?
Exactly, I’m really just making stuff for me. But also, in the beginning, when I started my shoe collection, I’d just come off of the J. Press and Southwick gig, so when I started making shoes I thought I’d be selling to traditional menswear shops that sell suits and ties and shit. I think Chris [Gibbs] from Union was my first big customer, and ‘Woah!’ I’m selling to streetwear kids.
So, in short, you’re not about the start leaving the stickers on your New Eras then?
No. I have left the stickers on for a few minutes when I get a new sample, when I’ll steal it and wear it and forget to take the sticker off. Then I get home and I’m like ‘Come on Mark’.
You’ve mentioned recently a new foray into producing music…
Yeah, that’s something I’m working pretty intently on.
You’ve always made clear your love affair with music, but I didn’t realise the full extent of it. I mean at one point you had 10–20,000 records…
Twice. I had a collection when I was in high school and college which I sold piece-by-piece, but then at one point in New York I had 20,000, but I sold the whole collection at one time. Now I’m starting again, but I’m buying mostly used records from flea markets for like a dollar.
Was your approach to collecting vintage clothing similar to your approach to the way you found music?
With the clothing, I used to love the shop – thats how I got into this. That’s how I became a designer: shopping and studying clothes. But at this point I don’t really need anything. I’ve got a basement and a storage space-slash-warehouse.
I don’t go to thrift stores looking out for specific things. I go to flea markets and I don’t need anything, so I’m just looking for treasures, little things that might inspire me. The biggest thing I miss about records is getting the record home, ripping the wrapping off, putting it on the turntable, then looking at the cover. How old are you?
Remember, for me that was the only format, so coming home and listening to it and reading the credits – ‘Who’s playing on this? Where was it recorded? Look who played drums on this.’ With CDs it’s so fucking hard to read and half the time the fuckin’ jewel case is broken. It drives me nuts. So a lot of the records I’m buying now I already have on my computer, so even if the record is fucked up and scratched at least I have the packaging to look at.
I saw someone the other day that had a t-shirt on that said “I wish I could download clothes.”
[Laughs.] When’s that gonna happen? Digital printing? I guess it’s possible right?
It’s such a bizarre sentiment though, right? But I guess it makes sense when other art forms have lost their physicality.
I don’t wish that at all, especially because the way I do things is so hands-on. But that’s very insightful. I think we’re all guilty of the downloading music thing. When I was a kid I’d buy my Creem magazine and circle the new releases and ride down to the record store, but now its all out there.
Thanks to The Blackman Hotel for hosting the CARBON 2014 speaker interviews.