You might say that Mark Jan Krayenhoff van de Leur pioneered a beard movement that is stronger than ever before. At the age of 12, a young Mark itched for the opportunity to grow facial hair, but it wasn’t until a post-pubescent 18 that everything came together. Mark is a leader and not a follower, but such esteem and notoriety has its setbacks – for example, with a beard 12 inches off the chin, there is no longer a reason to wear a bow tie or foulard. While accessories may be hidden by his beard, there is no missing it on its own. Mark and I talked goatee-to-full beard transitioning and he gave us a peek into his endless wardrobe of unique designer pieces. When someone writes a poem about your beard, you’ve made it (somewhere). With quality and quantity, Mark is quintessential BEARDED style.
Name: Mark Jan Krayenhoff van de Leur (photographed above right with partner AA Bronson)
City: New York City
Are you a grower or a show-er?
LOL – are you talking about my beard? (Editor’s note: yes, albeit in a cheeky way!)
Are you the type of guy who has always had a beard, or is your growth a response to a trend?
I was dying to have facial hair ever since I was 12. I grew my first beard when I was 18 and I’ve never been clean-shaven since (I’m 52 now), so I don’t follow trends. I do lead them sometimes though – I went from a short beard to a goatee in 1989, a couple years before they became popular. I could feel they would be coming into fashion.
Then, when I grew my goatee out into a long beard in 1996 I assumed I was leaving fashion behind, but to my surprise, long beards are coming back now.
Do you keep it neat and clean, or is a little unkempt more your style?
Ideally I keep it neat and clean, but when it’s this long (12” / 30 cm off my chin) it’s hard to keep a really precise shape – it blows around in the breeze a lot. My boyfriend trims the edges once a month so it doesn’t look too ragged, but apart from that it has grown to its maximum length. When I’m in the city I use moustache wax, but when I’m at the beach on summer weekends I let my stache go natural.
Does your beard ever factor in to the clothes you choose to wear? Do you like to frame it as your statement, rather than wear bold patterns, graphics and colours to distract from it?
I love to wear fashionable clothes, and when I had a goatee in the 1990s it went perfectly with what I wore. I wanted to grow my beard out long, but I hesitated for quite a while because I thought I couldn’t mix high fashion with a big beard – we’re talking head-to-toe Thierry Mugler outfits, for example. But ultimately I decided I would just become my own category and not worry about the dictates of fashion. So I still wear interesting, colorful outfits and have a big beard at the same time. The truth is that a plain black t-shirt sets off my beard best, but I can never bear to wear such a low-key outfit.
The only change I’ve made is to give up wearing bowties. I used to love wearing them occasionally, but now they’re completely hidden by my beard so it looks like I’m not wearing a tie. The only one I’ve held on to is an old floppy bowtie from Romeo Gigli – it’s big enough to be seen beneath my beard. It looks quite Edwardian and romantic.
Does facial hair suit everyone? If you weren’t fully bearded, would you sport a ‘stache?
Almost every man looks better with some form of facial hair – it gives you character and makes you look manly! If I weren’t fully bearded I wouldn’t have just a moustache, I’d probably have some form of creative facial hair. I love all the interesting things you see guys do – maybe I’d have friendly mutton-chops (big sideburns connected across a moustache) or something like that.
How would you classify your style?
Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t think I fit into any categories – at this point I’m just me. I certainly have my preferences in terms of fashion. I like conceptual and avant-garde designs from people like Martin Margiela (at least when he was designing for his house), Comme de Garçons, Yohji, Miyake and Junya Watanabe (see Watanabe nordic knit jeans below).
What do you think about bearded, less-standardized models on the runways of Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood, Walter Van Beirendonck? Can high fashion be showcased in this way?
I think they’re fantastic. It’s funny – fashion pays lip service to individuality, but the truth is that most fashion is actually very conformist. They mostly aspire to the same ideal; hence all the models look alike. I love the designers you mention because they promote individuality – on their runways they show that you can actually be your own person and the clothes still work on you.
Name one item you will never part with from your wardrobe
Hmmm… that’s difficult because I have a lot of pieces I really love. But I’d have to settle on one thing that has the most emotional meaning for me.
A friend of mine, Frédéric Sanchez, does music for fashion shows (Prada, Miu Miu, Vuitton, Gaultier, Marc Jacobs and many others). He also did the music for Margiela for many years, right from the beginning, so he knows all the people there. And do you know Margiela’s painted jeans (Only one of the most brilliant fashion ideas in the last 15 years)? I have the white-painted jeans and jean jacket, which I adore. He did different colors of paint over the years, and for one season he did silver, but only for women. I was dying to have silver ones – it’s probably my favorite color.
One day Frédéric was visiting us in New York, and offered to get a pair of jeans ‘Margielized’ for me – he said they used to do that for him all the time – he’d bring them a sweater and they’d paint it, for instance. I jumped up and stripped off the jeans I was wearing (Levi 501s) and gave them to Fred. As it turned out, 6 weeks later I was in Paris and my silver jeans were ready. At this point, most of Margiela’s production was in Italy, but he told me they did them specially at their Paris headquarters in order to have them done in time. It was one of the most thrilling fashion things that’s ever happened to me. I love telling people “Oh, these jeans were custom-made for me in Paris by Margiela”.
It’s the closest I’ll ever get to couture.
Note: These jeans have been featured in Bill Cunningham’s ‘On The Street’ in the NY Times (check out the hand-painted Issey Miyake shoes from Tokyo!)
Any advice to those gents out there who may want to achieve a beard like yours?
On the physical level it couldn’t be easier – simply stop shaving! And be patient and give your beard a chance to grow and fill out properly. When I first grew my beard long, it went through different phases and shapes. For a while it would look awkward and curl in strange ways, then it would grow into a new shape and look good. Find out what your beard’s character is – make the best of what you’ve got, and don’t try to be something you’re not. In my case, I’d love to have a sweeping handlebar moustache, but it ain’t gonna happen. I tried forcing it into that shape with lots of moustache wax but it wouldn’t hold in place, and I was always anxious that it was going off and doing its own thing. So I finally settled on what it wants to do, which is ‘wavy handlebars’. It’s not the usual, but it’s the real me!
Unfortunately there’s a lot of fear and social pressure that stops men from growing their beards out. It can be a real problem if your partner doesn’t like beards, although one benefit you can use to persuade them is that a long beard feels so soft compared to stubble, which is very prickly. For better or worse, you’ll really stand out with a big beard. Some people hate it and others love it – hardly anyone is lukewarm about them. You’ll get some ignorant comments asking ‘why do you grow your beard?’ A good response is that it’s natural for a man to have a beard, so they’re the ones who have to make a defense for shaving.
In closing, a friend of mine was inspired to write a poem about my beard – here it is: