Designer Mark McNeill's Sneak Peek At New Men's Belts for 2016

Mark McNeill

Yes, belts serve a function, but to Mark McNeill, designing a new men's belt is all about getting the form just right. Take a look at the exciting styles he has designed for fall of 2016.

A belt may be one of the most functional pieces of a man's attire but don't tell Mark McNeill that. For our designer, a belt does much more than hold up a pair of pants, it ties a man's look together. We talked to Mark to find out how he comes up with a new belt design and what we can look forward to for fall of 2016.

Allen Edmonds: Where do you get your inspiration for a new belt style?

Mark McNeill: I spend a lot of time in the factory where I get ideas from everyone around me. It may come from the shoe pattern maker, shoe creative team, manufacturing team, leather purchaser and especially the shoe finishers who work at the end of the production lines. Each and every one of these people have provided inspiration to me. I look for details that are important in our shoes and try to incorporate them into our belts like the color of the leather or how it is burnished or the thread used in our handsewn shoes or the rugged appeal of a casual, vegetable tanned leather. There are many things that serve as initial inspiration. Working at Allen Edmonds makes my job easier. I just have to look around.

Allen Edmonds: Before we talk about this year's collection can you tell me how many belts you think a man should own and what are the must-have styles for every closet?

Mark McNeill: The number depends on how many different shoes he owns. Every man should have at least one belt that goes well with every shoe he owns. One black belt might work beautifully with five different pair of black shoes in his closet. But he will also need one for his walnut, brown, chili, oxblood or bourbon colored shoes. Each color of shoe he owns should have a belt that beautifully complements the shoe he is wearing on any given day. If possible they should also match or complement the brogueing details of the shoe. Casual shoes and belts are easier to coordinate as they have a broader color spectrum for acceptability. The lines are not as precise as those used for the dress shoes where the color should always match.

Allen Edmonds: Looking at fall of 2016, how would you define this year's collection?

Mark McNeill: I have to give you the same answer I would give every year. It is always all about the details like the stitching, brogueing and burnishing. That and the quality of the materials we use from the exceptional leathers to the beautiful buckles. These are the things that make every Allen Edmonds belt special.

Allen Edmonds: Of the new styles, which one was the most difficult to design?

Mark McNeill: Definitely the Layton Avenue. It is made of vegetable tanned leather with rows of vertical laser cuts. The problem came when we made the cuts. The process dried out the leather more than we expected. After numerous trials we corrected the problem by using a natural buff wax that restores the beautiful patina of the vegetable tanned leather. It was a lot of work but the result is spectacular.

Allen Edmonds: Those vertical cut lines of the Layton Ave make it a difficult belt to define. How would you wear this belt?

Mark McNeill: I think it looks great with all our tassel loafers but the vegetable tanned leather also looks great with any of our handsewn loafers. The patina of the leather combined with all those cuts creates a very special belt.

Allen Edmonds: I understand that the Hackett Avenue belt was made using a brush off technique. What exactly is this?

Mark McNeill: Brush off leather is very unique. We start with a walnut color much like we use in our shoes. The tannery then applies a navy blue overlay on top of the walnut base. When it is finished tanning the leather looks navy. Then we "brush off" most of the navy overlay and the result is a walnut colored belt that has navy blue antique especially around the brogue details. We wanted to create a belt that goes with every pair of blue denim jeans a guy has in his closet, for all the times he wears one of our walnut colored shoes with his denim. It is a very special creation.

Allen Edmonds: Which new fall style would work best for business casual and out on the town?

Mark McNeill: That Hackett Avenue belt we just discussed is a great belt for a business trip. Imagine our walnut Strand dress shoe or a pair of our Dalton boots, paired up with a navy suit, any kind of blue shirt, maybe a tie and this belt. What a powerful blue and walnut statement that would make. Then out at night with a pair of 34 Heritage jeans, a washed but not ironed cotton shirt and this same belt. Perfect.

Allen Edmonds: Do you have a favorite belt?

Mark McNeill: That question strikes a nerve inside my heart. I have a friend who was once wearing a belt that I admired. It looked old and special and I told him how much I liked it. He told me that it had belonged to an uncle who had recently passed away. It was easy to see it still had his uncle's DNA, with decades of wear and a patina on the leather that his uncle had created with oil from his own hands. That will always be an incredible picture in my mind and it still inspires me to give our belts that sense of timelessness. At Allen Edmonds we create belts that can be handed down from father to son and maybe even the son's son. We produce belts that are generational, that stand the test of time. So do I have a favorite belt? Yes I do, but I'll never tell anyone which one.