My Dad's An Up-and-Coming Fashion Designer And I Can't Decide if I Should Ride His Coattails or Not

My dad's career as a fashion designer is starting to blow up. So will it seem like I'm riding his coattails if I get involved?
Publish date:
April 17, 2013
fashion, mark mcnairy

In high school, we used to Google our names to see what came up, and for me it was always just one set of my old scores from when I did gymnastics until I was 11.

Then, one day during my freshman year at Rutgers, I put my name in the search engine and was shocked when more than 5 pages of results came up. It was all my work I had been doing very casually for my father Mark McNairy, a fashion designer.

Pretty soon after someone stopped me on the street and asked: "Are you Mark McNairy's daughter?"

Yeah, I am. But I also have a name.

Then during one of my first seminars as a women's studies major, a kid Googled me in class after he asked me who had done my shoes.

"My dad," I said.

Pretty soon he had his Wikipedia up. I felt weird and uncomfortable -- but, of course, still proud of my dad. It's happened several times since then, and now I'm more prepared.

The other day, again, a stranger very nicely complimented me on my animal-print espadrilles, and when I said my father had designed them, she then asked: "Oh, is he famous?"

I said "No," but I'm quickly realizing I might need to change that answer to "Yes."

When my dad asked me to work me with as an assistant, stylist, model and basically whatever he needed, especially during Fashion Week, I found myself absent a lot more frequently from school. My roommate would ask me what I had been doing, and when I told her, she would yell as a joke: "Yeah, because that's fucking NORMAL!"

Honestly, my relationship with my father is a strange one, complicated even further by his emerging fame. From the ages of 11 to 17, I only saw him occasionally when I came back to New York to visit because of my parents' divorce and spending these years living with my mother in New Orleans.

My life seemed like a much less glamorous version of Hannah Montana. In New Orleans, I was focused on school. When I visited my dad, I was focused on fashion. I had a sort of split identity.

What once seemed like one world -- family -- began to appear more like two. And not just because of my parents' split or the geographical difference. They felt like two entirely different universes and life path choices.

My dad stuck hard to his career path, while my mom, who originally started out working with my father, strayed further away and focused more on raising me. Her life seemed simpler to me, without the constant chaos and stressful, fickle demands of the fashion industry.

Near the end of my senior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to go to medical school to become an OB-GYN. I was also pretty sure that I wanted nothing to do with my dad's fashion career, because it seemed too predestined and nepotistic and besides, hadn't I already had this experience during my childhood in the industry?

Having worked with my dad since the day I could walk, I believed I was already practically retired from a career in fashion.

I chose a school an hour away from New York City because I wanted to be close, but not too close to be constantly distracted. If I was going to get myself into medical school, I was going to have to buckle down for a few years and bury myself in biology textbooks.

When I first got there, it was really hard for me to adjust. This was because I tended to associate New York with freedom and play, and not work or school. I found myself spending more and more time with my family and getting more involved with what had kind of become a "family business." I found that though I enjoyed some of my classes, I was really miserable at school and doubted I wanted to get into medicine at all

In order to see what made me happy (and what I was organically good at), I started

working with my dad

more as well as getting

this internship at xoJane

. Both of these experiences gave me the opportunity to better understand what I wanted to do. I started to question having picked a school so far away, and a major so different from what I had been raised around.

For some people, college may be a really eye-opening experience, exposing them to things they love, but for me, I felt like it was shutting me off from what I loved, and it took a lot of soul searching to find that out and be honest with myself about what made me happy.

Maybe finding out what you don't want to do is just as valuable. Process of elimination, right?

It's interesting to realize how kneejerk my initial assumptions were, and how I had been putting down and looking past the fashion industry and following in my parents' footsteps because I felt like it was something that was being handed to me.

I think I'm learning more and more that your career is whatever you make it and that sometimes things fall into place and the best way to handle opportunities is to be grateful, make the most of them and do the absolute best you can. Just because I have an in to the fashion industry through my dad doesn't mean I'm not valuable and worthy of these experiences in my own right.

Maybe there's a way for me to take what I already know and have access to, and combine it with what I am starting to figure out I actually love.

It's been really cool to work alongside my dad as his career starts to take off. But I'm still deciding whether I want to resolutely give up the plans that I had for myself.

Thankfully, I realized it doesn't have to be black and white -- women's studies or fashion, never work in the industry or devote my entire life to it -- but about finding a balance between the two.

I will always be my father's daughter, but I feel now I'm starting to make my own name.