Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mordechai Rubinstein, Garmentologist: My Unfiltered Conversation with the Man behind Mister Mort

Mordechai Rubinstein is a long-time staple of the New York menswear scene. After years of working in retail, publishing, and marketing, he began one of the earliest menswear blogs, mistermort.com, in November of 2008. He remains one of the Internet's most dedicated afficionados of all things sartorial. He loves clothes, obsesses with clothes, notices things about clothes that nearly all of the rest of us miss: the stitching on a pair of jeans, the way a jacket is buttoned or a pair of trousers tapered, the cross-pattern of a woven coat. These things matter to him, and on any given day, during lunch breaks or before or after work, he snaps dozens of shots of such details on his iPhone or Yashica camera. Some of these pictures make it to his blog or his Instagram page. Others just pile up in the hard drive of his computer. Appropriately, he calls himself a "garmentologist," or a "fashion anthropologist."   
Mordechai Rubinstein, doing what he does on the streets of SoHo
Two weeks ago, I got the opportunity to hang out with Mordechai on the streets of SoHo, New York, his home terrain these days, and watch him at work. We sat on the window ledge of the American Apparel store at the corner of Spring and Greene, watching people go by and chatting about Fashion Week, Korean street style bloggers, and the changing face of menswear. I have left this interview more or less unedited here. There is a rhythm and a cadence to Mordechai's speech that is all his own, a kind of manic James Joycean stream-of-consciousness that I didn't want to accidentally eliminate. As such, it's longer than the other interviews I have posted in word count, though it was shorter than most in duration. Stick with it. Read the whole thing. It's worth it. I left my conversation with Mordechai wanting to know way more about fashion — both its material form and its social fabric. I hope you will be similarly inspired.    
Mordechai Rubinstein stopping some guy on the street to photograph his coat.
Mordechai: This [SoHo] is the neighborhood I started, pretty much. I’ve been working here in retail for a long time. And it’s where I took my first pictures really. It’s amazing for me, because I left town for two years, I went and lived in San Francisco. It was supposed to be six months, but I stayed two years, working for Levis, and to be back, and not just to be back in New York, but be back on the streets — not just any streets — but in SoHo, it’s like I’m 20 years old again. It’s kinda crazy. I can hang on the corner and shoot and, you know, you have certain corners nowadays that weren’t like they were back then. There’s like bloggers from Korea, like ten of them just on the corner like a mob.

Brent: I’ve seen some of those mobs, hanging out, doing that.

Mordechai: It kills me, and it’s great. You know, I’m not complaining. You give anybody a big camera to shoot National Geographic style, they’re going to get a clown, a guy, to them, whose really well-dressed, because he’s wearing, I don’t know, shorts in the snow or a dress, and he has a beard. You know, it’s like, OK fine, we get it. You’re trying to be weird and different, which is what it’s about now. But it has me going to less Fashion Week stuff.
One of Mordechai's photos from Fashion Week, as originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: Are you going to be checking out much of the Fashion Week stuff.

Mordechai: I mean, because I live here, and my heart and everything is here and in it, I’m not going to ignore it, but I go to less and less. It’s like everything’s online a second later. I do want to touch and feel fabrics, but that’s not always at a show. It’s more at a presentation. I’ll go to certain companies, because they’re nice to me, and because I believe in their stuff. I’ll go to some companies that are not nice to me, and I still like their stuff. But yeah, I’ll support, as much as I can. You know, for work we do two shows.

Brent: So are you part of that whole process?

Mordechai: Yeah, but again, we’re menswear, and it’s really only a women’s business over there, but um, you know, maybe I’ll run around. It’s amazing that every job I’ve had I’m able to like be myself. I’ve worked retail forever and ever and ever, and then one day Condé Nast tell me, “We want you to come and work for Men’s Vogue.” I say, “Men’s Vogue.” Is that X? [goes to talk with friend, not actually named X]. This is the good thing about standing over here and the bad thing about standing over here, you bump into people. [they chat for a while. He introduces me to X. They talk about a monster truck rally his friend went to in LA]. One of my first New York friends. I was working retail, he wandered into the store, invited me over to his place to smoke a joint after work, man to man, "I’m doing a movie, it’s for school." The name was big, cause it was like a big New York acting family, that sounds mafia, acting family, but you know, it was a family of actors, and one of these was this friend, and he asked me to do the wardrobe on these great people. So I did it. And he was in film school at the time. Then he went on to work for MTV for a million years. I think he still does, but he does a lot of stuff on the side. I never thought people like him would move to LA. Because I can’t stand a lot about men’s fashion in LA. But he’s back and forth, and it’s cool.
And I love what happened. 

Photo by Mordechai Rubistein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
That’s the best thing about being on the street. You never know what you’re going to see or who you’ll bump into, but these people, he’s like, "I took a picture with you in mind." I’m like, "Shit, you should have texted me! I’d like to share it." So, yeah, where were we?

Brent: We were talking about gangs of Korean street photographers out in SoHo.

Mordechai: It’s cool, though, because out there they have a TV show. They have a street style like fighter or something TV show. I’ve never seen it. I’d YouTube it, but I’m like bad at sitting at the computer.  And I wish that I had. I don’t really know what it is, but like yeah, some of these dudes are on reality TV shows out there, and they’re like street style shows.

Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: I’ve had a couple of friends who have shot Seoul and have told me it’s like a madhouse there. You walk down the street and people get stopped for like two hours by photographers. So I don’t know. It’s taken off.

Mordechai: Yeah, I mean it’s like any idiot with a camera’s a blogger, but then again, now you have the i-telephone and the other ones that can take pictures. So it’s like, I’m not saying I’m an artist at all. I don’t even consider myself a photographer. But yeah, back to what you were saying about, you know, so I, at first I made up this title “garmentologist.” And I was like, yup, that’s what I am. And my friend was like, “No. You’re actually an anthropologist.” And I was like “Oh, cool! I’m an anthropologist. I don’t even know what that means.” But smarter people I’m meeting along in life are like, you know the clothes are so secondary to you. It’s really about the person. And I’m like, wow, it’s amazing that you took that out of it, because it is a huge part of me, but it’s not. It is because I’m a people person. I grew up Hassidic Jewish. On Fridays, we went to yeshiva. And you go, and I don’t know if you’ve seen around, they’re called a mitzvah, and there are like these mobile homes that drive around. Are you Jewish? Are you Jewish? Are you Jewish? You probably get it once in a while. You have a beard. But at Holiday times, women lighting candles. Men, jelly donuts and menorah. Are you Jewish?

Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: No.

Mordechai:  For the different holidays we’re all about outreach. That’s how I grew up. You know, satmar, other sects of Hassidic Judaism, if you don’t have a beard, if you have an earring, you’re not Jewish. It’s bullshit. If you’re born a Jew, you’re a fucking Jew. You can convert to Buddhism, or anything, you’re still a Jew. That’s how it works. So, it’s a big part of my life still, even though it doesn’t look like it, or people are like, “yeah right.” It is. As you can tell. I guess my point was, oh, that taught me to talk to people I think. I mean, I went to fashion school, well whatever. I didn’t learn nothing at fashion school, not one little thing. It was a joke. I was hanging out with my friends, going out at night.

Brent: Did you study design?

Mordechai: I went to FIT. I studied accessory design. I wanted to design women’s shoes or women’s handbags. I was really into them. And I still am. People laugh. My girlfriend laughs. She’s like, “You don’t know anything about women’s wear.” Every time I take a picture of a girl, she’s like “Oh, come on!” 
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort
But, you know, I started working in menswear. I got really lucky working for the New Republic clothiers, one of the coolest stores New York’s ever had. It was like 20 years ahead of its time. It was the American Paul Smith. All the shoes were bench-made, handmade in London, you know like Trickers, Sargants. All the ties and accessories were from London, from Duchamp, all these companies. The clothes were all hand-tailored here in New York, turn-of-the-century through the ‘70s hand-tailored, so it looked super-vintage, Edwardian, high-wasted pleats, velvet collars on all these types of topcoats and jackets, but it was all made here, so it was like an American Paul Smith. Rock’n’Roll historians would come in. I knew nothing. I was coming from yeshiva. I went there and a yamaka’s a pocket square, you know, and they were like, “Why do you want to work here?” And I was like, “Look at these clothes! What do you mean?” And I have two older sisters. They’re pretty well-dressed. We didn’t grow up with any money at all, but miraculously, I love the way my family dresses. They’re Hassidic, but they look cool and have great taste… without spending money. I mean, no one in my family wears designer clothes or knows anything about Style.com or any of those. Which I think is so rad, you know. I’m working at Kate Spade for a long time, my mother’s asking me to get her a bag on Canal Street, you know. Maybe that’s part of it. Not to be humble, but you know, it’s like, you don’t grow up with it, so it’s like you’re not spoiled with this shit. What else? What else?
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: So you notice it.

Mordechai:  So I started working for the New Republic and then I met Kate and Andy Spade there. They used to shop there a lot and a lot of, like, just cool New Yorkers. And they said they were going to open up a men’s store. When that happened they brought me to open it. It was a really tiny company, but it was part of Kate Spade. There were 3 or 4 people doing Jack Spade. Her husband Andy, advertising jeans, and then, from there, when they sold to Liz Claiborne I went to work for Condé Nast. I never thought in a million years what this little yeshiva kid would do at Condé Nast. But they asked me to be a marketing editor of Mens Vogue, and I did it. I loved it, until it crashed. It closed, and I’m thankful that Levis asked me to come do some stuff with Dockers and Levis. I was making some stuff for them. I stayed there for a bunch of years. Now I’m back in New York. I never thought I would have [been] relieved. I still don’t consider myself a New Yorker, because I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, but as a Hassidic Jew, we came here every other weekend. Every holiday, so we were always here, so I saw the streets, but again, it’s funny. Because for me it’s a color, or it’s something weird that catches my eye. It’s not the person. Once I’m there, I’m like “Why do you wear all black?” I notice photographers wear all black. Maybe I talk a lot, because I’m uncomfortable, maybe I ask too many questions, I don’t know. I ask a lot of questions. But that’s also, you know, these bloggers take pictures for a million days, a million hours, whatever, they’re not talking or getting to know the person, or getting to know why he’s wearing what he’s wearing, or how we wore it the way he wore it. To me, it’s almost the most important thing. It’s like, it’s great that the guy is wearing a kilt, but why? Is he from the seventh regiment of Stockholm, or wherever they wear that shit? Or is it a costume? I like to know why. You know, today, people don’t care. They don’t care that the stitches, you know, that this shirt is 22 stitches per inch and its wax-coated thread-needled. They care a little bit, but it’s bullshit, you know. I think.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: So do you consider yourself primarily interested in the people who are wearing the clothes or is it primarily about the objects themselves?

Mordechai: It’s really both. I mean, look, clearly this guy likes blue [points to a guy passing]. Cobalt blue jacket, hat, and bag. I don’t  think it’s because it’s hip and trendy for the season. I think he’s drawn to the color. He’s slightly hip, because his glasses are two-different colors, color-blocked. He has a tote bag. Men don't really carry totes per se, unless they’re 90 year-old on the Upper East Side, or weirdoes, or young hip people, but he’s — I’m not going to judge where he’s from — probably not from around here regardless. He’s paying attention to some part of it, you know. So, for me, that’s why I’m drawn to it. I want to know, why the blue? If it’s a uniform, a guy’s working, he’s a garbage man, and he has like 13 cargo pants and each one’s being used for something else, yeah I’m dying to get inside and know what’s going on. 
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
But I took a picture once of some 90-year-old guy on Madison Avenue in a camel overcoat, wide-well corduroys, and I think he’s wearing New Balance, and a beautiful camel, cashmere scarf, walking with no worries in the world, whatever it’s called, no cares, just like strolling down the street whistling, both hands in his pockets. I stop him, and I’m like “Hey, can I take your picture?” It’s always different. That’s a big question I get, it’s like “What do you see?” It’s different every single time. Oh, I like your beret. For me, it's normally that I like something. That’s how it is for me, because I’m drawn to it. Am I talking too much? Too fast?

Brent: Not at all. That’s why I’m recording it.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Mordechai: ‘Cause I’ll just go on and on until I get hungry or your stop me or whatever. Or we’ll figure it out. So, yeah, it’s like, “Can I take your picture?” It’s normally, “Why?” Or  “Go ahead.” Or, you know… [points at a coat] I love that coat! Fleece floral. Wow! Um, it’s like, “Can I take your picture?” And it’s like, “Why? Get away.” A motion like this, but you don’t know if they’re deaf or old, but you don’t want to take advantage. Fine. I just walk away. Or, my favorite, New York men, or men in general are like “Why me?” Which is so cool. They’re so humble. Even if they think they’re cool, they’re pretending, which is so nice. They’re not like on some cool guy shit. It think today’s men are kinda fucked, because on the one hand they want to be like yeah, yeah, yeah, and then they’re afraid of the backlash once it gets to the Internet, and nobody wants to see the comments. I get it. I don’t really want my picture taken either, not so much because of the comments, but about everything. Like, ok, “I’m wearing all black-today. You’re going to wear all black tomorrow.” “I’m wearing denim today. Denim today’s the trend, is it?” “You’re wearing tie-dye, but oh, you’re a hippy.” I’m not a hippy. I like different things. I don’t know one Grateful Dead song, but I love vintage Dead shirts. You can call me a phony. I don’t care. I love the wear in them. I love the art of the tie-dye. You know, but you walk through the airport, and people from all sorts of countries are like, “Ah, I went to that show! 1958. Dadadadada.” And I’m like, “I don’t care!” But, I try to be nice about it. [points at another person passing] Color-blocked everything coats.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: Is this how you live your life, noticing everything that goes by? Constantly assessing everything people are wearing?

Mordechai: Yeah.

Brent: Would you do that without the blog too? Or does the blog focus your attention?

Mordechai: Oh yeah, yeah. Not only that. I don’t know how you found me, but like, the blog itself is suffering because I’m spending so much time in the street. And I don’t know if that’s Instagram’s fault, but I’m on the blog stuff right now. I’m about to like go in hard. I’ve been saving it for a while. I’ve got a gazillion photos to post. I’m so behind. I love Instagram, but like, key people aren’t on it, they’re on my blog, which is amazing. You can’t assume that everyone’s on it. And I’m not about to share the same content. Like, oh, I might have an Instagram button to share it on my site, because I think it’s cool, my Instagram photos. But it’s different content. I gotta keep that. And I’ve been pretty good with it. I could do a lot better. It’s just in San Francisco I was bored as fuck There’s nothing to do there. No street style. It’s the opposite of this. But now that I’m in this city, to be able to sit here and go like this. This is tremendous. It doesn’t happen everyday that I can do this. I’m taking advantage of it, because I’m sitting with you at the same time. Normally it’s like walk to lunch, walk back, get a couple photos, sit at my desk, take a walk, try to get some appointments, zone out a little bit. But with the dude in the camel hair, I say, “Hey, can I take your picture?” “Sure, go ahead.” You know. I take it, and he says, “Oh, you like my coat!” And they pick up on one thing. For me, it’s like, the beret, the coat, a guy that age is typically picking up on one thing. He’s not… either he has no time for you, some rich banker dude whose like, “Ok, take your picture and go,” or they have time to hang, which is kind of weird too, because then it’s like, “Uh, now what?” I just opened up a can of worms. But I like that people ask why are you taking my photo? What’s it for? It’s cute. It’s cool. It’s like they want to know a little about me too, you know what I mean. It’s like I would want to know if someone took my picture on the street where it’s gonna be.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
I’ll never forget. I was like 13 years old, 14 years old, and someone took my picture on the street here, and mailed me a slide. Made my day. I still have it somewhere. I’m in Times Square like this at 14 years old, and some total stranger, I gave him my home address, mailed it to me. That’s ill. That’s so cool. It’s like I have a hard time now when kids are like, “Aw, can you email me that photo?” I’m like, “I’ll try. I can’t promise.” I feel like a dick. They’re not, I shouldn’t say they’re not worth money. Maybe they are. But it’s not like I’m selling these prints at galleries. Or like, contact my gallerist or my agent, I’m like hit “send.” But I’ll take 30 and I don’t want to send the wrong one. So, and like lately, people are like, “Would you mind if you not post it?” Why would you let me take it?” But you try to be fair. So this guy, I took his photo. And then, he’s like, “Oh, you like my coat!” And he goes like this [opening up the pocket]. “I wear it to make the bank deposit every Monday morning. You see the pocket. It’s all worn out from the cash.” And literally he’s like going like this [opening up his jacket pocket to show me] and like showing me the contents of his pocket, and I’m pretending to look. You don’t want to be, like, ok, but you’re like alright I get it. And then he’s like, “No, no, this is where I keep the cash.” Is he telling some story? Who knows? You know, maybe it’s just vintage. He’s embarrassed, you know, second-hand, he wore it out, he thinks I’m making fun of him. I start making all sorts of theories in my head. Because people might think you are making fun of them, unfortunately. But I’m pretty genuine that when I like it I like it. It’s another thing. I try not to say negative stuff. I say “oy” a lot on the Internet stuff, and I’m like “Oh god, the people. What they wear today!” But when I started the blog, I thought I’ll keep that all positive. I’ll put negative stuff on Twitter, so that people can learn how not to dress. ‘Cause at the start of my blog, I just wanted to be a men’s thesaurus. I wanted someone to say “What is grey flannel? What is herringbone? What is fair isle? I wanted them to go to my site, put in a search, all that stuff comes up, I teach men how to dress. Some editors along the way have told me, “Dude, I get what you’re trying to do, but if you really want to teach men how to dress, you gotta spell it out for them.” I’m like, “No. The photo says it all.” Tartan plaid. Charcoal suit. Can be worn with a black hat or a non-black hat. [points to a guy walking down the street with a ladder]. That’s a Korean blogger, one of the guys I was talking about.  He… uh… hold on. [Runs off to take his picture. I photograph the two of them with my own camera]. Did you get that? Because I don’t think I did?
A tartan plaid tie. Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: I don’t think I got any good ones. But I got it.

Mordechai: He’s, uh, he’s like a street style blogger.

Brent: You know which site he does?

Mordechai: It’s tricky, because, he’s one of the earliest ones that I knew. He came here from Korea, parked himself on the corner, and just gangstered out. But they’re so smart, ahead of our country. Japan, Korea, they’re so fucking smart. I think the kids here are so stupid. They just want to be on a blog so bad, anyone that says “Can I take your picture?” wearing a camera, they’re like “Yeah, yeah. Take my picture! Take my picture!” However, if these guys take your picture, it’s not a blog. They’re working for the trend forecasting companies or big-ass fucking department stores. Like, I’m just making it up, but like, a Macy’s of Asia. Forgive my geographical errors. Maybe it’s Japan. Maybe it’s… I’m yeshiva, I don’t know which Asia, but you know what I’m saying. It’s either Japan, Korea, it’s somewhere, and they’re killing it, Hong Kong. They work for these trend-forecasting companies that just buy the photos from them. I’ve done it, so I know what’s up. They don’t say a word, they’re just like, “Hey, can I take your picture?” If the idiot asks, this person, subject, asks, “What’s it for?” They say, “Ah, a blog,” or something. If the kid asks what blog — and they might even be smart enough to have a blog — they say here’s my business card. They don’t talk. They don’t say too much. But they will tell you straight up that it’s not a blog, it’s a company they work for. They buy the photos. But what they’re not telling you is companies want to know what the guys are wearing. You’re wearing triple-needle stitch denim, and I think it’s different, and I want to supply them with photos of the design. I get it. I’ve done it. I think it’s rad. But it’s interesting, you know what I mean. We think they’re street style bloggers, and, haha, they’re not. 
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: That’s interesting. Although I know some of them are. Some of them I’ve met.

Mordechai:  Yeah. For sure.

Brent: Although I don’t know exactly what happens to the content once it’s on the blog, who else they send it to. A lot of those guys are working for magazines now too.

Mordechai: Part of me is a little jealous (you don’t have to mention that). Yeah, I wish I was selling my photos, blah, blah, blah, whatever. It’s cool. I mean, look, my dream job would be on the streets all day shooting. It’s gonna happen. It’s just what I want to do.

Brent: Has the blog led to other professional opportunities for you so far?

Mordechai: It has. It has. I think I’ve been hired for a couple jobs, be them short term projects, or collaborations because of it, or some full-time gigs. You know, I think companies have brought me on not knowing exactly what I do. I was never hired for anything in my life with a job description. Or a real title. And it’s just — knock on wood, without the evil eye — worked out. I’m not a millionaire, and I’m sure my girlfriend wishes I was. I’m not rich, but I’m happy. I love documenting. I call myself a garmentologist. I just want to document the streets. Like a fashion anthropologist. People say I’m a fashion anthropologist. I don’t know what any of this means, but, then I heard a “documentarian,” and I was like “yeah.” I like to tell people I’m a journalist. ‘Cause it’s true. I’m a blogger. I’m a journalist. I break the fucking news, if I can. I did, anyway, back in the day when I was going to trade shows and shooting shit that nobody had. I mean, today, everybody’s wearing the same thing, and they go into stores and they want the whole mannequin. They want the whole look. They want whatever you’re wearing. There’s no research. It’s not like, “Oh, ok, Spiewak [pointing at my jacket], I’ll go get it.” It’s not like this is my dad’s. He wore it in the war. I’m not saying it has to be vintage, but it’s like, I’m curious, did you take these jeans in to make them slim, or they came triple-needle?
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: They came triple-needle.

Mordechai: It’s interesting, because it’s for workwear. Why? Because built to last, you know. But today it’s fashion. A lot of shit has no function. No whatever. I didn’t say that. So where were we?

Brent: I don’t even know. Just keep going.

Mordechai: I mean, with things like this, if it goes well, I talk. If not, I’m like, “Oh, God, why did I waste my time?!” You understand. And this is better than email also. You don’t get it through email. We could have had a conversation. We could have a Skype conversation…

Brent: I’ve done a bunch of those, but you get a very different feel for a person.

Mordechai: I’m so happy that we could meet up. I’m happy I wasn’t a dick, because I can be so hard to deal with. People take it as like “You’re an asshole.” I’m not. I’m a weirdo. I’m not even a weirdo. You know what I mean, if I get too stoned the night before, I don’t feel like doing it.

Brent: Well, I have to say, I’m happy you use the anthropologist language, because the whole sort of argument of my book is that street style, at least at its best, is a kind of popular version of anthropology.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Mordechai: Yeah, but do the people you’ve spoken to get it, or no?

Brent: A lot of people do get it. Yeah. I mean, I think that it depends on the motivation of the person. You know, when I started getting interested in street style, a lot of stuff was documentation of what people were wearing on the streets of, say, Helsinki or Cape Town, or Buenos Aires.

Mordechai: You were obviously, well I shouldn’t say obviously, but you were on the blog, looking at the stuff, looking at this stuff. You were on the Internet and you were thinking, wow, street style sites are popping up.

Brent: Well yeah, they were popping up all over the place, and it interested me just in terms of being able to get a real feel for the city through what it is that people are wearing, and a lot of the early people I talked to, that was their primary motivation.  You know, they weren’t making money off it. They didn’t have any professional photography experience.

Mordechai: That’s right. This is what the streets of Helsinki [was doing].

Brent: Hel Looks.

Mordechai: Yeah, Hel Looks! I used to love that blog.

Brent: Yeah, she’s one of the people who’s going to be in the book.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Mordechai: Oh cool! I used to love that blog. And I say I used to, because I’m not on the Internet that much. I got in trouble saying that in The New York Times.  “Oh you’re a blogger. You don’t go on the Internet?” It’s like, how much time do you have. That blogs kills it! It’s one of the earliest blogs ever, and it's funny because I always dreamt of… I started on Flickr. Before I blogged , I put everything on Flickr, and after a while I learned how to make it private, and I started a blog, ‘cause I was getting more traffic on Flickr, and I was like, “I can’t handle this! I’m gonna make a blog.” So with Flickr I was like, I want to go to Russia. I’ll put in Moscow and look at the streets and see what it looks like. And it’s so cool.  I’ve never been there, but I feel like I have. And now, with blogs, and because they’re so big, and the Internet’s so big, now if you’re going to go to Berlin, or if you’re a kid, and you’ve never been to New York, and you want to see what kids are wearing, it’s kinda cool. Or you’re like, “Oh, I like how the kids in Helsinki dress, I want to try that at home. Wait! What’s your blog?

Brent: It’s called Urban Fieldnotes.

Mordechai: And you sent it to me in the initial email?

Brent: I did, yeah.

Mordechai: And I didn’t look at it? Very possible. I’ll definitely check it out. Is it about traveling?

Brent: It’s not. So, a big portion of this project for me is to get out on the streets and do what it is that the people I’m studying are doing.

Mordechai: And so, by doing this, you’re doing that. Literally.

Brent: Yeah.

Mordechai: That’s so dope. I appreciate your sitting here with me and not like a fancy coffee.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: It’s all good, man. This is what anthropologists do anyway. We chill with our subjects, you know, try to get past that “I study you” sort of thing and try to make it into something more meaningful. And also so that you’re seeing from the perspective of the people you’re working with. That’s what I try to do as an anthropologist. Which is what interests me about the street style. I was getting into a branch of anthropology, it’s called Visual Anthropology, where people work with photo and video to do their work, rather than just writing books and chapters, and all this other stuff, and I started editing this journal called Visual Anthropology Review.

Mordechai: Visual Anthropology Review.  [Points to a guy crossing the street]. That’s the third guy we’ve seen wearing that shirt today. See the dude with the jacket. It’s the same one my friend X was wearing.

Brent: Yeah, you’re right.

Mordechai: That’s so wack. Go back to LA!

Brent: I lived in LA for seven years before coming out here.

Mordechai: Oy vey!

Brent: So I was interested in what these people were doing, and I decided that the only way I was going to understand it was to go out and shoot it myself, and figure out …

Mordechai: I have two questions, but I’m going to let you continue first with the project.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
Brent: So the project is partly me…

[muffled, something about who else is part of it]

Brent: There’s like 17 or 18 of them listed on my blog. My interviews that I do I just put them up.

Mordechai: They’re already up? And then you’ll just put them in your book afterwards?

Brent: Yeah. [Answering something he asked]. Oh, yeah, the book contract’s been signed, so I don’t have any choice.

Mordechai: and you’re allowed to publish it first on your site Nobody minds?

Brent: Well, because they’re an academic publisher I think they’re not as stressed about it. And it was part of my book proposal is that I’m going to do this project from the perspective of a street style blogger. So the book’s going to be called Street Style Anthropology.

Mordechai: [excited] Really? This is so cool. It’s like meeting a rabbi. I’ve been [??] myself around my whole life, and now I’m meeting one. I mean, I call myself an anthropologist. I never googled the term. I never knew what it is. I’m not embarrassed by it. But a little bit. But I always imagined [it fit me]. Like, dope, dope, that’s what I am. An anthropologist of why they were wearing it. And before you got involved with this particular thing, you were still an anthropologist, but you were doing what?
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort. 
Brent: Well, I was working largely in Indonesia. I was working with the independent streetwear scene in Indonesia .So, there’s a huge indie streetwear scene in Indonesia. At any given time, there’s about a thousand different streetwear labels, mainly in Bandung and Jakarta on the island of Java, but also in this town I lived in a long time ago called Yogyakarta in the center of Java. It’s just kids who are between the ages of…

Mordechai: So style? Style? Clothing brought you out to these places?

Brent: Well, I went out there at first because I was interested in youth culture and I was interested in the music scene. I started focusing on the music scene, right, like all these kids in punk and indie bands and hip hop groups, and stuff like that. And all these bands had their own clothing labels. They were all hooked in with each other. What they were doing is making music themselves in their home studios, and screening T-shirts to go along with it, and selling them in shops their friends owned.

Mordechai: So you were documenting what they were doing.

Brent: Absolutely. So I ended up getting into the streetwear scene that way.
Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.

Mordechai: I like that. Most people who aren’t into clothes and they told me they were doing something like that I’d be like “fuck you!” What do you know about fashion? And stuff like that. But your story that led up to it, that’s rad. One of my biggest pet peeves, is, like, I’ll be at a fashion event, Pitti, wherever, shooting, somebody, who shall remain nameless will be on my side, in front of me, shooting the same thing I’m shooting. I might have one advantage to them that I stop the person and ask. Some bloggers will get mad. Why are you talking? You’re messing up my shot. Other bloggers, because I’m bringing them closer and making their subjects still. So they love and hate at the same time, but I’m like, I’m really generous, ‘cause I work on the edit side. You know these editors, because you happen to know them from the Internet, and they walk by. It’s like when I used to ask baseball players for autographs back in the day. “Mr. Clemmens, Mr. Clemmens, Mr. Clemmens,” I would say their names, because everyone around me was saying their names. I didn’t even know who he was. I wasn’t even into sports, but I wanted the autograph. These guys, “Hey Bruce, Hey Bruce, Hey Bruce! How’s it going, Bruce?” You know Bruce Pask? You know he’s from The New York Times.  You know he’s one of the fashion dons of the world? No. You don’t know anything. Which is fine. Or maybe you do know everything about him. But it’s still like, I’m not saying you have to know Dries Van Noten from ’99 or Miu Miu from 2002. You don’t. You don’t. You really don’t. But the kids are just know- it-alls. And when I say kids, I’m 38, but I’m ageless. I’m like a fucking 16-year-old. Ageless is maybe the wrong word. 

Photo by Mordechai Rubinstein. Originally posted on Mister Mort.
I love love love old men, because they’ve lived, and they have such great stories, and I don’t shoot a lot of young guys, because I respect this [gesturing to my outfit] because you’re doing black and you’re just blending in, and you’re not trying, but a lot of these kids are just trying so damn hard. Look at me! Look at me! Everything is about look at me! Oh wow! Woooow! Wooooooow! [gestures at the jacket of a passerby] The patchwork. The love, you know what I mean? It’s like, ah man, old couples arm in arm. Priceless. Right? Priceless. Fucking priceless. Anyway, yeah, so that’s that. That’s really cool. Thank you so much for hitting me up.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, I could feel the crackling energy coming off of Mordechai just by reading your interview. I love that he's so into what he does, and notices all the details (stitching, etc.), but I think he would be exhausting to spend a lot of time with. Thanks for posting this, it was a great read.

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  2. Love this. I've taken a lot of pics of what I like seeing on the street too. I didn't know who Mordechai was - now I have an idea - he's an interesting, authentic guy. Congratulations on your wedding. Beautiful pics in Vogue Daily. Thank you for sharing.

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