The funny thing about designer Nathan McCarthy is that he doesn’t care how you wear his clothes. The flowing silk charmeuse dress with the kimono sleeves? You decide which is the front or the back. The drapey cashmere crisscross sweater with the sheer trim? Hey, make it a dress! And when you get sick of it, cut off the sleeves, or chop it in half. Why not?
“My whole thing is that I’m not into imposing styles on what I do, so it’s like, if you want to belt it, belt it. If you don’t want to, you want to wear it like a big T-shirt, I don’t care. You can not wear pants, it’s fine. If you’re cool with it, I am,” said Mr. McCarthy, who is 24. He was sitting at the end of a brown couch, the only substantial piece of furniture in his tiny, recently painted Clinton Hill apartment, which takes up part of an old carriage house’s lower level.
Mr. McCarthy, who is slim, freckled and speaks in a soothing way—almost a hum—is laid-back for someone who works in an industry that demands attention to detail and precision. His debut collection, for holiday, is just five pieces—two dresses, one dress/top, one top and one sweater, retailing from $410 to $645—and will be exclusively available at the West Village boutique Castor & Pollux, on 10th Street, starting Nov. 12. They are made of washed silk and cashmere and are practically seamless. The look is minimalist and feminine with a touch of Japanese. One Castor customer who saw Mr. McCarthy showing his work cooed that it was reminiscent of vintage Halston.
“I don’t think it’s bad to take influence from other designers,” said Mr. McCarthy, who also cites early Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang as inspirations. He’s also been compared to Jil Sander and Yohji Yamamoto. “I think it’s cool that the range has been so insane!” he said. “I guess technically it means it’s like nothing, but also means it’s like a lot of other things that I like.”
MR. MCCARTHY WORKS FAST; this collection, backed in part by close friend and makeup artist Kristin Gallegos, was made in just six and a half days. Unlike other designers, he worked directly with the fabrics he’s using, only later hiring a technical designer, Rebekah Allen. He needed the backup, it turned out. “‘Your one armhole is 23 inches and your other is 26 inches; what do you want to do about that?’” he quoted her, with amusement. He buys much of his material at Mood Fabrics, the go-to place for Project Runway contestants, in the garment district.
This wasn’t his first attempt; he had produced an entirely different round of clothes last year. “Everything was very tailored, very tight. Pleats,” he said. “I had made a lot of progress. … I was almost ready to produce the samples and show buyers; it was right on time for the market and then something internal was like, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do this now.’ So I dropped everything.”
When he returned to the drawing board, he came up with clothes whose details are hidden inside—the opposite of ostentatious. They are also one size fits all, at least in theory, though this small-framed reporter could’ve used a few more inches in the shoulders wearing one of the dresses.