Mark McNairy on Southern Comfort
A shoe designer who only wears socks when cooking
Designer Mark McNairy made a name for himself as the creative director of the preppy sportswear brand J. Press before launching his eponymous footwear label, Mark McNairy New Amsterdam, in 2009. Like those at J. Press before them, the shoes reflect a distinct northeastern Ivy League aesthetic, with hints of British polish (which is all the more fitting, considering many of the shoes are produced in the UK). Contrary to these distinct stylistic references, McNairy’s a Southern gent. He hails from North Carolina and the Southern comfort classic of biscuits and gravy still goes down as one of his favorite things to eat. Here, he talks to us about proper footwear (guys, lose the flip-flops) and going commando — uh, sockless.
So, you’re a Southerner now living in New York?
[My wife and I] live in Weehawken [New Jersey], so it’s right outside the tunnel — a five-minute commute.
Do you tend to eat out a lot?
We cook a lot more than we eat out.
What kinds of things do you like to cook?
Lots of things on the grill. I cook more than my wife does, but also her mother lives with us, and she’s a professional cook, so…
That’s a good deal.
Yeah, pretty nice.
Where is your wife from? What kind of food does she like?
My wife was born in Queens, grew up in Belgium, southern France and Atlanta. She likes what I like.
Do regional differences come into play at all in the kitchen, especially with her mother, the professional cook?
Martha introduces me to things I don't know how to cook. I wanted wild boar over couscous, but I didn't know how to cook couscous. I did the boar in a crock pot, and she handled the rest. I can't do risotto. She can. So, she teaches me things and vice versa.
Is there one dish from the South that you miss that you've been unable to find up here?
You can't get gravy biscuits in New York, so I make it at home. I recently learned how to make sausage gravy.
Do you make that year-round?
Whenever I have time. Something for the weekends — Sunday morning or something.
So let’s talk about footwear, especially during these hotter months. What would you like to see more men wearing on their feet during the summer? Particularly to go out?
A proper pair of leather suede dress shoes. You don’t have to wear flip-flops. You can wear a proper pair [of shoes] with shorts and just no socks.
Is that a personal dress code?
Basically I tend to never wear socks, year-round. When I’m going out, I’m usually always in my shoes. I feel guilty if I’m not wearing my [label’s] shoes.
What’s your go-to shoe style?
The bucks with the red brick soles, because they’re very lightweight. They’re good for summer.
And you never wear socks?
Nope. Not unless it’s like crazy or snowing or something.
Doesn’t that kill your feet?
I’m used to not wearing socks so I can put on a fresh pair of shoes, and I’m usually fine. A lot of guys ask me about feet sweating. If you wear sneakers with no socks, it’s horrible, but if you wear a pair of proper leather-lined shoes, you don’t have that problem.
North Carolina folks seem to be passionate about their region's particular style of barbecue. How about you?
Westside. Respect — more moist than anything Eastern.
What do you wear in the kitchen when you’re cooking?
Socks. I don’t usually wear socks with my shoes, but when I get home, I take off my shoes and wear socks.
It’s a comfort thing?
Mark McNairy New Amsterdam collection will be shown at the trade show (capsule) in New York City July 18-19.
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