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The Big Jewcy: Mordechai Rubinstein, Blogger – Mr. Mort

Being a stylist and blogger solely in womenswear, it threw me for a loop when I was assigned to interview Mordechai Rubinstein a.k.a.blogger Mr. Mort for The Big Jewcy. Thinking his knowledge of tailoring and sartorialism would trump mine within the first five minutes of our conversation, I prepared a laundry list of questions hoping to hide my ignorance of a craft he clearly knew inside and out.  The first five minutes were nothing like I’d expected. Instead of an intimidating sartorialist I found an ex-Rabbinical student, a designer, a non-religious man who still prays daily and a man humble enough to never refer to his work as photography. I continued my chat with Mr. Mort and learned that not only is he a true photographer (just check out his amazing photoblog!) but his passion for classic menswear is pretty damn contagious.


How and why did you decide to start Mr. Mort?

I moved back to New York fourteen years ago on my way back from Rabbinical school in Israel, got a point and shoot camera with a super scope lense and just couldn’t stop. It was great because people didn’t know I was taking their picture. I don’t like getting off the subway until I know what everyone’s wearing, which sucks when I have miss my stop. I’m just obsessed with finding the cool shit people are wearing and what’s happening on the street. Ten years later, I’m an editor at Men’s Vogue and its my job to look for the cool shit. I got tired of doing it and going to meetings but I loved the things that wouldn’t make it into the magazine just because they weren’t Calvin Klein or a top designer. I needed an outlet for all the pictures I was taking, and then the magazine closed. Suddenly, I was my own market editor and starting a street magazine online. I want the street to be brought to the public, wherever I am. I live to document men and how they wear their clothes, whether it be to shul, to church, to the doctor or to work on Madison Avenue. I love that the 80 year old set since they they’ve been wearing the same things for forty years. I only post what I love, but I have about 3000 pictures, I just want to share the best stuff with people through the blog.


Well speaking of the people you photograph, what about someone makes you want to take their picture?

I can dash across the street if I see a crazy coat, a tweed coat, something double breasted. That’s the stuff that makes me dash across Tenth Avenue and almost get hit by a car – it’s a fabric and a fit. I see a jacket, a kid in an interesting pair of shoes. I saw a seven year old in tie-dye long johns and Vans slip-ons at a gas station in Oregon, which to me is real American style. Patterns, textures, fabrics, colors, footwear…accessories, well not accessories, but…men’s furnishings. Bow ties, suspenders, double breasted – that’s what I’d get hit by a car for.


What about women? They’re a rarity on Mr. Mort but appear now and then – what draws you in with women?

Women… I love to shoot women in menswear. I think it’s a photo of Helmut Newton’s, a picture of a woman in a flannel double breasted suit with huge cuffs. I have this vision of a woman in a trouser with a Birkenstock-y open shoe with a heel…Women in fedoras. I don’t know if I saw it once or if I’m imagining it. I just document what people wear, I’m not a photographer. I like to take pictures before I ask, and a few after. The ones before I ask are so much better. The minute it becomes serious, I have a tough time. I don’t know if its because I grew up Orthodox but it’s so hard for me to see a babe and shoot her – I get so nervous… with girls. If I got a different camera I might be a lot more comfortable.


What is it about your camera? It seems fine, the photos look great…

I feel like a kid with no viewfinder… I can look at them without the lens. Maybe if I got a new one I would take pictures of women more. Because the thing is, I love people, but I hate people. They get too intense when it’s a formal thing, when I ask to take their picture. They say, "What’s it for? What are you going to do with it? Have you taken my picture?" Or, "Didn’t you take my picture? When is it going to be on the blog? I haven’t seen my picture up yet!" I like to keep moving, traveling so that stuff gets to me. For me it’s not about the people, like I love to get to know the people and hear their stories but I want to be an online spot for designers who are starting up or established if they are ever sitting at home, thinking "what does a double breasted window pane flannel jacket look like?"


Ya, I noticed that you do not categorize the images by location, you have different categories than the average photoblog…

Ya, its all about the clothes, the details, so I have categories like that. And brands I shoot a lot of, Ralph Lauren, J.Crew. Once in a while I’ll delete or add a category. Like I know the Sartorialist does it by place but he shoots women and I just live to shoot men.


Would you ever design?

I have and I will, and I love to and I live for it. The problem is, I am very opinionated. People always say "Oh, you’re a truest" or "you’re a purist" because I live for the classic, old-school menswear. But then all of a sudden I’ll like Raf Simons shiny Doc Martens or Rick Owens heels on men, so it shocks people. Style changes and grows with you so each day you can like something completely different. But, I’ve made bow ties and pocket squares. I recently got my first, real design job with Levi’s, which is an opportunity fifteen years in the making and I feel blessed as all hell to be doing it. Its kind of crazy, like I dropped of FIT fifteen times, I don’t have the skills. Levi’s is building an amazing team, we’re going back to the roots and making functional garments. Right now we are working on Fall 2011. Like, I feel like a fuckin’ pioneer, like Levi Strauss himself just getting up one day and saying "Oh! They found gold in California, I’m going to go over there and make clothes." I got hired by this guy who is literally building this team of pioneers, it’s amazing.


What do you do when you’re not Mr. Mort? Styling? Freelance writing? Are you ever not Mr. Mort?

A day I don’t take pictures kills me. There are men and characters everywhere. I am hanging out and working now with the most stylish guys in San Francisco. I’m traveling and shooting cool people everywhere, like I went to Oregon recently, to a Native American reserve, and hung out with this lady who made moccasins. I live to travel and get lost. 


I wasn’t going to bring him up unless you did but since you mentioned The Sartorialist, I’ll bite. What do you make of the comparison readers probably draw between the two of you? I mean, to be fair, you do spend more time discussing true sartorial things while he focuses more on women’s fashion. To me, sartorialism is more of a masculine concept. Thoughts?

I’ve met Scott, The Sartorialist, and he’s photographed me a couple of times. He is a true photographer, and he nailed me. He put me in GQ and he nailed it. He said in the piece, "this guy lives to complain about his clothes" – he nailed me! He’s completely right. I get dressed, but then I’m like,"Dude, I wish the collar was an eighth of an inch rounder…" That’s totally me, and he wrote that. Like, I always get dressed and wish my shirt was made in the 60’s in England but its Ralph. He’s a photographer and I wish I was. He’s shooting gorgeous women who literally take forty hours to get dressed and I’m shooting men going through the garbage on Coney Island wearing purple speedos. But I want to bring the streets and truth to the web.


(At this point I was still giggling about the speedos vs. Sartorialist women comparison…) Who do you look to for inspiration creatively, stylistically? Do you have an inspiration board? If you don’t, pretend you did – what would be on it?

It’s the street – there’s nothing to me like walking – anywhere. An airport, an Indian reservation, a school, anywhere. I’m not into the Internet and magazines right now even though I used to work at one and now work on a website – its books for me right now, more than magazines.


You worked with Andy Spade at one point who in my mind is a brand genius, did you learn anything from him in crafting your brand of Mr. Mort?

Oh, completely. I talk to Andy all the time, like he’s a genius. We’ll talk at like four in the morning – his time. I’ll go on about making this shirt and then the next Monday he’ll come to me and be like, "ok, let’s make it." I have him to thank for a lot of what has come my way, I would definitely thank my parents as well but he’s taught me so much. What was it he said? "Oh yeah. Don’t come in on Monday if you’re not going to come in on Sunday."


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