Mark Nguyen — better known to his Instagram followers as marklashark — expresses himself through various mediums within fashion design and content. He helms a duo of ascending streetwear labels titled Maybe Tomorrow and Open Bar Funeral, the former of which has become a cult favorite for its extensive range of cozy saftey-pinned beanies. He’s also a seasoned photographer with an impressive portfolio that includes shooting for Justin Timberlake and Diddy.
Nguyen’s personal style can be described as eccentric. He likes to toy with an array of colors, textures and silhouettes, many derived from Japanese fashion. But the one thing that Nguyen always believes completes his outfit is the footwork. His personal stash consists of everything from OG Jordan retros to Nike collabs and his recent Maybe Tomorrow x Saucony project. However, if there’s any brand that he enjoys lacing up the most, it’s Dr. Martens — more specifically, the classic 1461.
For this latest installment of Sole Mates, Nguyen discusses what his sneaker culture experience growing up in LA was like, his favorite Dr. Martens in his rotation and more.
What got you into sneakers?
My brothers. I’m the youngest out of eight siblings so I was really used to getting hand-me-downs and I remember always trying to find a way to make them unique, whether that was by painting them or cutting off a strap. When I was actually buying my own sneakers, it was always the Champs Sports two for $89.99 deal, because growing up I couldn’t always afford nice sneakers.
Do you remember what the first silhouettes were that captured your attention?
adidas Superstars and Converse Chuck Taylors. They came in a lot of colorways and you could pretty much rock them with everything.
“You wouldn’t really get made fun of for wearing “church shoes” if you had [Dr. Martens] on and they had somewhat of a rebellious look and feel for me.”
What was sneaker culture like for you growing up in LA and do you remember what silhouettes you were really into?
Growing up in LA was really just about learning and gaining a sense of identity when it came to my personal style. Due to shortage and money, it was also hard to get access to hype sneakers in LA since it was all campouts back then. I wasn’t financially stable until my mid-20s and that’s when buying shoes picked up for me.
Do you remember when Dr. Martens came into the picture and what was most striking to you about the brand and its products?
I can’t say I remember the exact moment, but I’ve always looked at Dr. Martens as a medium that wasn’t too formal and that I can rock daily with street fits. You wouldn’t really get made fun of for wearing “church shoes” if you had them on and they had somewhat of a rebellious look and feel for me.
Why do you think Dr. Martens have become such a cultural staple?
As of late, I think it’s due to the collaborations they’ve been doing. Those collabs are showing their versatile taste and ability to resonate with people of different subcultures. They’re killing it on that side of the spectrum.
What about the 1461 resonates with you the most and what are your favorite pairs that you own?
The 1461 is the most iconic Doc for me. Not only is it widely available, but I love its low profile and bulkiness in the toe box. It doesn’t lean too sleek like a dress shoe and has somewhat of a combat boot vibe to it. The shape is amazing.
I know you’ve done a custom pair of 1461s before. Talk about how those came to life.
I made them in 2020. I was really inspired by Virgil Abloh and design aesthetics and so I essentially adopted his over-lacing concept and did it in my own way to mimic the appearance of shark teeth from the outside. They were a nod to my Instagram handle and I ended up making 50 pairs of them to sell.
If you could cook up a Maybe Tomorrow or Open Bar Funeral x Dr. Martens collab, what would it look like?
I would love to make that happen. Off the top of my head, the design would definitely be inspired by an element of my life. I don’t want to share that to the public just yet, but believe that I’ve already conceptualized some ideas that I think would be fun.
Do you have any favorite ways of styling the 1461?
I love taking Docs out of their ordinary lens. I love going outlandish with them and pairing them with something like a Needles HD pant which is baggy and offers more of a balloon, Harem-esque pant look to flow over the whole boot. It’s taking that and complementing them with other Japanese-inspired pieces that I love.
Do any fond memories come to mind when you look at certain pairs in your collection?
I’d go with my high-top Needles collab. I was on tour shooting for Justin [Timberlake] and when I first got to New York I remember picking those up at Nepenthes. And ever since then those have been through the trenches with me.
Do you have any other Dr. Martens silhouettes that you keep in rotation often?
I’d say one other pair that I find myself rocking a lot is fragment’s Hollingborn collaboration. The upper is drenched in that glossy patent leather but the overall shape is still casual. They’re the perfect happy medium.
Now that you live a bicoastal life and often travel to and from LA and NY, what’re some of the similarities and differences that you’ve noticed between sneaker culture in both cities?
The taste in shoes between the two cities is very different. I’d say New Yorkers prefer the high tops and boots, more fashion-forward silhouettes. LA is slowly starting to get there but you’ll still see plenty of Vans, Converse, Air Jordan 1s and “Panda” Dunks, which is still okay, they’re just catching up.
Why are sneakers and their stories important to you personally?
Storytelling is the most fun part about it. You can tell a lot about a person just by looking at their shoes. It’s a way to express yourself, both for the creator and the person wearing them.
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