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Sole Discretion

fashion designer mens fashion designer press

Composed & Edited by YAZ A. / Curated & Lensed by DIONYSIUS BURTON

Wearing slim-cut gray jeans and a fitted white tee punctuated by blood red suede slippers from his eponymous luxury footwear label, Mark Chris’s head-to-toe ensemble (perfected with complementary “man-cessories”) is anything but mediocre when I spot him entering the bustling coffee shop where we would soon engage in a lively tête-à-tête on entrepreneurship.

Mark genuinely greets me with a million-dollar smile followed by a warm hug, and politely asks, “Can I get you something to drink?” I had already caffeinated my bloodstream just an hour earlier in preparation for this interview, and seeing as I wanted to sleep at a decent hour that evening (read: 2:00 a.m.), I kindly declined his offer, briefly explaining my sensitivity to caffeine.

He then thoughtfully offers decaffeinated alternatives such as tea and water, and I delicately reassure him in not-so crude terms that my bladder can only hold so much liquid per two hours. He flashes a boyish grin and advances to the barista.

As I transfer my belongings from the cool but loud interior of the coffee shop to the warm and quiescent outdoor seating area, I admire Mark’s understated sophistication as he sports a simple, yet eye-catching tricolor palette. I realized then that whether he’s suited up or dressed down, Mark embodies the essence of the polished gentleman (with a charming persona to match), reminiscent of old Hollywood legends such as Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and the like. When Mark later explains that his affinity for men’s fashion stemmed from watching classic movies when he was younger (amongst other influences), I tell myself, of course.

A few minutes later, my thoughts are interrupted by Mark, who while talking and smiling, proceeds to stabilize his coffee drink on the silver-toned table (where my laptop, cell phone, audio recorder, and notepad had already made themselves at home), and promptly seats himself to my immediate right.

“As far as I could remember, I’ve always loved men’s fashion,” Mark reflects. “It could have been a classic movie where guys are in suits, and they’re being very respectful to women…they also carry themselves with this sort of confidence, and this class, and this demeanor that was very powerful and sophisticated. And, their appearance went with it.” He then reveals an undeniable connection between fashion, comportment, and identity. “I felt that fashion was always a huge part of that – how you look is how you feel. So, I’ve always felt for the longest time that men’s fashion is a way to define yourself,” he says matter-of-factly.

The young business executive turned entrepreneur has certainly made a name for himself in the digital universe (and in the real world) as a dapper Instablogger whose sense of style encompasses a modern mix of white-collar cool and classic gentry. Asked why he launched the Mr. Men’s Fashion Instagram page almost three years ago, Mark confidently states, “I felt there was a void in the social media aspect of how a man should dress realistically on a day-to-day basis.” He continues, “So I decided at that point [to] open up Mr. Men’s Fashion, and start posting what I wear on a day-to-day basis just to show guys this is how you could dress realistically on a regular day.”

The style star upgraded his suit-and-tie game to a new level last fall by taking a rather bold step to launch a chic footwear line punctiliously “designed for the sophisticated gentleman.” As the men’s style scene continues to rise to new heights, the flourishing interest in men’s footwear is nothing short of serendipitous for Mark, who asserts, “I wanted to fill a void in the market where I felt that there was a lack of expression.”

Mark’s attention to artistic and technical detail is inspired by all things luxury from cars to watches. Preserving “timeless designs with modern styles” while balancing “bold and elegant looks,” the inaugural Mark Chris collection is handcrafted to transport the modern gentleman from work to play, be it a board meeting with colleagues, a date night with that special someone, or an afternoon on the yacht with friends and family.

As Mark introduces the personal philosophy behind his brand’s identity, I listen intently with much admiration and amusement. Though his composure for the most part is immaculately reserved (this man steps out of his sporty coupe with such swag that it’s unreal), my conversation with Mark was peppered with puns and pranks (towards the end of our dialogue, Mark quite seriously tells me that my audio recorder has stopped working…I nearly have a heart attack as I immediately check the battery indicator only to realize he was pulling my strings), along with empathetic nods, as we discussed the common issues we’ve encountered along the journey to becoming creative entrepreneurs.

Read on to discover the “sole talk” that led to the crafting of Mark Chris Shoes, and who Mark credits as his greatest supporter in his entrepreneurial endeavor.

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

My word of the day is ambition.

The first thing I do when I wake up is check my e-mail.

My pet peeve: people that drive really slow in the fast lane.

Love makes the world go round.

The best advice I’ve heard lately was to do what you love, and you won’t have to work a day in your life.

I think pain is motivating.

My greatest struggle has been balance.

My greatest fear is losing those close to me, and not taking a risk.

I think success is inner happiness.

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STYLE 101

Whether dressing for the 9-to-5 grind or a date night with his Mystery Lady, the debonair designer contemplates his OOTD based on…you guessed it…shoes.

Weather permitting. I have two different styles based on how I feel – what my mood is that day. Actually, when I get up in the morning, I check the weather before I get dressed.

Statement piece. So the first thing I do when I pick out an outfit is I think about what shoes I want to wear. That’s how I decide on my outfits, and I’ve always done that (way before I made my own shoes) because in my opinion, shoes make a statement in an outfit.

Do you. I can’t say that I have a style icon. Now, there’s a lot of men that I think are very well-dressed, and I admire the way they dress, but I wouldn’t say that they’re my icons when I get ready. There’s no one who I look at their style and want to resemble it – I want to resemble my own style. I don’t think about anyone else when I’m getting ready. I think about how I feel, and how I want to look.

TALENTS AND PASSIONS

Mark retraces his entrepreneurial steps from a boy who loved to draw “fast things,” to a man who aimed to design a flawless shoe.

 

Back in the day. I’ve loved suits as far back as I could remember. When I was younger, for one birthday, I wanted a suit! Going further back, I wasn’t so much into suits. In my middle school days, I was into hip-hop and the velour jumpsuits. That was the fashion back then!

Freedom of expression. I’ve always been into design. When I was younger, I loved sharks – they called me Mark the Shark. I would draw sharks all the time, and I would draw things that I just liked. After that, I evolved to cars; I liked fast things – jets, planes, cars. And then in college, I went towards architecture. I loved buildings, and I loved the fact that you can create something from nothing. You basically had a blank canvas to do whatever you wanted, and express yourself. So, I’ve always liked expressing myself through design, way before shoes.

Eyeing the competition. I enjoyed fashion for what it was, and I almost felt well, the brands are the brands that are set. You don’t really think, ‘I could change this – I can compete with these guys.’ You don’t think that. You just think, ‘Well, they’re on a different level, so just enjoy the fashion.’

For the love of fashion. I opened up my [Mr. Men’s Fashion] Instagram page maybe about two-and-a-half years ago. I’ve always enjoyed fashion on a personal level, and I never thought to really reach it out to the world. Then all of a sudden, I started to build this image around me as a sharp dresser. I had people stop me to ask where I got something, or compliment my ability to put the outfits together, or whatever it may be.

Follow the yellow brick road. The fashion page, which is funny…when I was doing it, I didn’t know why. I just kept doing it and I said, ‘I don’t know what the purpose of this is yet, but I’m just going to keep doing it until I can find it.’ I knew I loved fashion, but I never connected the dots.

FROM IDEA TO EXECUTION

Mark reveals the aha moment that led to the launch of his footwear collection, and shares the key element that would help him obtain his first prototypes.

Constructive criticism. Every time I’d look at a shoe, I would think, ‘Oh that’s a nice shoe but if they just did this differently, it would be so much nicer.’ I realized that I was critiquing a lot of the shoes that I would see, and thinking about how I would change them to resemble my style.

Sole talk.  I was talking with a buddy who really wanted to get into custom suits, and I said, ‘Honestly, there’s a lot of custom tailors right now.’ I said, ‘You know what, I thought about this for awhile and I wouldn’t go into suits, but I have thought a lot about shoes, and I’ve got some really cool ideas.’ Once I heard myself say that aloud, that’s when I was like, ‘You know what? Now is the time.’

Follow your heart. People are so afraid to do what they love – to follow their heart – that they live their lives doing something that is safe and conservative. I just felt that I didn’t want to do that, and end up with regrets. I started seeing opportunities of designs that hadn’t been made or I hadn’t seen, and I started Googling to see if I could find these designs that I was picturing. For instance, using stingray leather or sharkskin leather. After I started seeing a few gaps that hadn’t been filled, I thought, ‘OK, you know what, this is the time to do it before someone else fills these gaps, so I better get to it right away.’

Plug into Instagram. I thought about the shoes years ago, and I just didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t know where to start, who I would turn to, what I would do, or how I would get it out there. Because my fashion page was kicking into gear, that enabled me to get some contacts from other big pages who knew people in Italy.

Take a leap of faith. So really, it was a matter of getting in touch with the right people in Italy, and then sending over a couple of designs that I drafted. They [factory in Italy] saw the designs and I remember the factory manager said this is something he hasn’t seen before, and he would love to take on this work because he can see this being the new thing – he could see this being the new style. He thought it was a market that hadn’t been developed yet, so he was excited to take on the work, which got me more excited, and I started designing way more than I needed to. Once the prototypes started coming from Italy, it started feeling real. [laughs]

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LESSONS LEARNED

While Mark strongly believes in taking “calculated risks,” he humbly notes a few misconceptions he had about his new line of work, all while sharing a few words of wisdom.

Flying solo. One of the biggest obstacles I think is that you have to really rely on yourself. You’ll have people that will be willing to help, but it really falls on you. If you want to get it done, you have to do it yourself.

Build relationships. Networking is huge. I’d built up relationships through my fashion page, and I got to know a lot of some big social media influencers. I remember talking with one of them, and they said, ‘Listen, you should do something in fashion. When you do, you let us know – we’re going to promote you.’ That was a year and a half before I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to go for this.’ Having those aces in your pocket really help when you need to go out there. You need to build these relationships so when you’re ready, you’re not just going on a whim.

Keep moving forward. I think every little step is an obstacle; the step is the obstacle because every step has 10 steps to it. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed, and you just can’t get overwhelmed. It’s important to just stay clear-minded and levelheaded. You need to know what you’re getting into, and what it’s going to entail. Whatever you think it’s going to entail, it will entail more – it will entail a lot more. You have to be willing to – once you make the decision and you go with it – just work at it. You can’t give up. And I think that’s the biggest thing – a lot of people just give up. They get overwhelmed, and then they lose hope. Or, they think it’s not worth it. They think they won’t ever be able to make a difference, and they give up. And you can’t do that. Persistence is probably my favorite word.

Less is more. When I initially started, as I mentioned, I was so excited…I think I did too much too fast. I might have given too many options to start with because I wanted to have styles for everybody, and I just couldn’t stop designing. And I think at a certain point, if you start too big, people don’t know where to turn to or what to pick, or where to go to because there are so many options. And for a new brand, I think less is more.

 

The proof is in the pudding. I had a big social media page that was going to be promoting the shoes the day I launched, and I had this preconceived notion that they’re going to post something, and sales are going to start pouring in. I just had this feeling that people were going to love the designs – and people did – but I didn’t think much further than that. When the shoes were promoted on social media, I remember that day just checking my computer waiting to see orders come in, and I wasn’t really seeing anything. I was confused…You realize that you have to prove yourself as a designer, you have to prove yourself as a brand, you have to prove yourself for your quality – you need to build credibility. And that is something that I learned very quickly.

A penny earned… I think that if you really wanted to find an investor, they’re everywhere. But me personally, I didn’t want to do that and I’ll tell you why. You’re always going to be the most careful with your own money. If someone else is paying, you’re not afraid to try things and risk things as much, but sometimes, you might not be thinking clearly – you’re just testing something out. When it’s your money you’ve saved, and you need to put your own money into it, you’re very careful how you spend that money, and you make sure that everything you’re doing is calculated. So for me, I told myself if I needed an investor I’ll reach out, but I’m going to really try to do this on my own. You start smaller, but you know what? You’re building your own company from the ground up.

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OUTRO

They say that next to every great man is an even greater woman.

Mark Chris makes no secret that his fashion-forward Mystery Lady (as he affectionately calls his better half who is no stranger to making stylish cameos on his Instagram account) has played some part in influencing his desire to dress well. “I’d be out with my Mystery Lady – she’s very fashionable, very stylish – and I’d like showing my style as well just being around her,” he concedes. (I briefly met the Mystery Lady last year, and I can assure you that she is a triple threat armed with beauty, grace and elegance to say the least.)

While Mark confides that his Mystery Lady does indeed deliver input on designs in progress, he proudly states that she has been the greatest source of inspiration in the inauguration of his footwear collection. He professes, “Her next to me has made everything possible.” I have a girly moment, and naturally ask him whether or not the Mystery Lady will ever be revealed. He pauses to calculate his answer and elusively responds, “I think eventually she will be.”

While I don’t know when the Mystery Lady will be unveiled, I do know that Mark is working on expanding his designer’s portfolio in the short- and long-term.

“The next step is to get into some loafers, not just slippers – that’s the next thing in the hopper,” he states with confident determination. “Going further than that, I would like to get into some accessories and women’s shoes too, but that’s going to be a little more down the road.” I ponder about starting an Instagram petition that would pressure Mark to release a capsule collection for the ladies by Spring 2016, but instead, I unabashedly tell him that if he ever feels the urge to design a women’s shoe with a black-and-marsala color scheme, I will not hold it against him if he chooses to name it after me. He diplomatically responds, “I’ll make a mental note of it,” while laughing. He has no idea I’m being serious.

I then ask Mark about his most pertinent goals for his footwear collection, and he liberally envisions his perfect year: “I’d like to get the shoes into some boutiques and some department stores, design some new models, and get more people wearing them. And, I’d love to get some celebrities wearing them on the red carpet.”

My delightful conversation with Mark eventually comes to a close, and I have a second epiphany. I realize that Mark Chris (the man and the brand) is the epitome of what it is to embody the essence of a gentleman; meaning, he is effortlessly chivalrous, cultured, personable, good-humored, noble-minded, and naturally well-dressed.

But to simply call Mark Chris a gentleman is an irrefutable understatement. He is a man of vision who stands unafraid to test the boundaries of form, function and style. Although this fearless visionary has affirmed that he has no style icon whom he looks to for wardrobe guidance, the reality is, he is impressively well on his way to becoming one himself.

AMNIVOX / Sole Discretion
Composed by YAZ A. / Portraiture by DIONYSIUS BURTON
Mar. 9, 2016



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