Tribal Threads

Dress British, think Yiddish. It was either Benjamin Disraeli or Gene Simmons who coined that maxim, but it applies naturally to Gytha Mander, the first haute couture label to fuse Savile Row tailoring with Hebraic sensibility. The Fall 2006 collection, … Read More

By / November 15, 2006

Dress British, think Yiddish. It was either Benjamin Disraeli or Gene Simmons who coined that maxim, but it applies naturally to Gytha Mander, the first haute couture label to fuse Savile Row tailoring with Hebraic sensibility. The Fall 2006 collection, “The Urim and Thummin,” named for a verse from Exodus, is an elegant if provocative tribute to Diaspora, with wood ties, high-collared women’s trench coats, and crocodile "Ben-Gurion" holsters. Where else might you worry that your "Maimonides" dress shirt clashes with your "Buber" blazer?

Casey Berman and Michael Moskowitz founded Gytha Mander—Old English for “a gift from me”—two years ago in San Francisco. Moskowitz says he first fell into the industry in another time zone, and in a menacing way. He was a yarmulke-wearing student of Israeli foreign policy living in London at a particularly fraught moment during the second intifada. One day, a car drove past and Moskowitz heard shouts. He thought he was in for some casual anti-Semitism, but it wasn't the skullcap that had stopped traffic. A comely passenger emerged and asked –where on earth did he get his fabulous sports jacket. Well, that was it for international relations. Moskowitz promptly set off to rule the runways as the lead dandy of rootless cosmopolitanism.

Jewcy: You’ve led a pretty eclectic life so far. In addition to Gytha Mander, you started up a hip monthly guide mag for San Francisco (TODO), which you still edit. Before that, you went to an ultra-prestigious school for international relations and spent most of your time thinking about Israel. What’s the next slated self-reinvention?

Michael Moskowitz: I don’t anticipate a career transition or reinvention, as you characterized it, for at least several years. To be sure, there are a number of things I first hope to accomplish: (1) persuade Saks Fifth Avenue to feature Winona Ryder in their fall catalog; (2) further agrarian reform in rural Kazakhstan; (3) design a platinum chalice for Lil Jon and teaching him the basics of Pirkei Avot; (4) pilot a pilotless drone. You know, the basics.

Jewcy: Why did you stop wearing a kippah? Also, what’s your attitude on Israel and the Middle East right now, and how has it changed since you gave up statecraft as a profession?

Michael Moskowitz: I stopped wearing a kippah because God told me I was a jive turkey and He wanted to see more of my scalp. So I was like, “Whatever you want, Dawg.” As far as Israel is concerned, I think they [Israelis] should all start calling themselves Druze. It’s close enough to Jews. And then we’d have special powers.

Jewcy: When did you first discover an interest in fashion? Did a particularly stylish person or style of duds catalyze a desire to get into the biz?

Michael Moskowitz: I took one look at Blossom and knew that something had to be done.

Jewcy: Who’s the best-dressed celebrity Jew? Worst?

Michael Moskowitz: Sarah Silverman should never wear clothes. At all, really. Not that she’s a schlump, but there’s no way she’s as hairy as she claims to be, and I, for one, would like to see her in the buck. Best dressed? Probably the Lauder girls, but they’re rich, so lauding their fashion is applauding night for darkness. I might have to go with the Chassidim on this one. Those brothers look sharp all the time. They could use a little Gytha Mander and some lighter materials in summer, but they’re doing better than most of the Gap quaffs on the Upper West Side. Worst dressed: I try to avoid lashon hara but I’m going with Aviv Geffen. He looks like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Brandon Lee in The Raven, post excessum (or is it ex post nihilo?).

Jewcy: When girls find out you’re straight, they must slice each other’s throats to get with you. A guy not just into fashion, but in fashion…. Are you getting laid every night of the week or what?

Michael Moskowitz: My personal assistants Kristin and Heidi schedule me in for at least 14 rounds a day—I like to call myself The Punisher. I punish. All sorts of girls. I don’t discriminate. Let me tell you, it can be a punishing routine, particularly for someone with a weak constitution, but I believe it’s important for Am Yisrael. I stick mostly to shiksas and rationalize it as revenge—nekama b’goyim. It also helps that I was a go-go dancer in Israel for a year.

Jewcy: When asked why rock stars date supermodels, Simon LeBon from Duran Duran said, “Because they can.” Who do fashion designers date?

Michael Moskowitz: Fashion designers date boring, unknown models because they’re always around. They also date high school girls because, in the words of Borat, they’re “nice.” And designers can get away with it. Personally, I date divorcées—they’re needy, experienced, and grateful.

Jewcy: Our friend Noah once told me a story about how the two of you went club-hopping on Chicago's South Side and you managed to finagle your way into an all-black nightclub by complimenting the hostess on her outfit. Even if I knew Versace from Gucci, I’d never have the instinct or presence of mind to do that. Are you just naturally social? You seem like the ultimate "connector."

Michael Moskowitz: To be frank for the first time in this interview, I’m actually quite shy and tend like most introverted, self-conscious, perennially awkward Jews to overcompensate by being garrulous. In terms of Chicago and any number of other stories, flattery, sycophantism, and obsequiousness go a long way—just look at Harvard’s graduating class. In terms of being a connector, I often feel more like an agent than a friend. I enjoy celebrating other people’s talents and gifts. Sigh.

Jewcy: How the fuck did you get liquor companies to sponsor your private house parties?

Michael Moskowitz: Salons are like mosh pits for the unapologetically pretentious. You’d be surprised how interested liquor companies are in that demographic—discriminating, opinionated, intelligent consumers, loyal to particular brands, and willing to influence others. I wish I could do the same with Etro or BP. I’d dress better or drive for free.

Jewcy: I bet you've got discriminating tastes in music, film, and literature. I want a favorite band, flick, and album growing up. And now.

Michael Moskowitz: I had very “childish” taste growing up. I liked Shel Silverstein, Robert Pirsig, and J.D. Salinger; I loved Guns n’ Roses, and went through a long-hair, metal phase. I’ve since undergone therapy. These days, my favorites are: music—Erik Satie, Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc, Peaches; literature—Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Marguerite), Umberto Eco (Foucault’s Pendulum), William Gaddis (The Recognitions), Barbara Tuchman (The Proud Tower), and anything by Edward Dahlberg, maybe the most underrated author in the English language for the past 50 years; movies—The Big Lebowski, Love and Death, The Professional, Dr. Strangelove, Dobermann (1997), Chungking Express, and Salah Shabati.

Jewcy: The gun holster strikes me as an accessory someone would have thought of already. What else in this vein have you been working on? Are Jabotinsky nipple-clamps up next?

Michael Moskowitz: Jabotinsky was a fucking ninja. He would have put Ben-Gurion in nipple clamps, hung him from a clothesline, and called him a piñata. I am working on other novelties.



Do: Pretty stylish duds, huh? Or no? Let us know in the Comments section. Go: For store locations where Gytha Mander clothing is sold, please visit the label’s website. Read: Daily Candy plotzed over the casual tees, and The Thrillist dug the holster.

Tagged with: