The Voices Inside Mister Mort’s Head
Mordechai Rubinstein on the Madness of Menswear
Mordechai Rubinstein was supposed to be a rabbi, but halfway through his studies in Israel he changed his mind. This transpired, in part, because Rubinstein–the prolific street style photographer also known as Mister Mort–likes to go where others aren’t. It started with a Flickr page, then a blog, then Instagram and the Know-Wave Radio show . Now this self-described “garmentologist” slash “reluctant anthropologist” has become the sartorial hashtag king. With recurring tags like #BeautyInTheEverydayUniform, #BorrowedFromTheBoys, #HighNotWaisted, #StopTheCrop and #FuckFashion, Rubinstein has become the unlikely voice of genuine, uncorrupted personal style. On any given day in NYC, he can be found yelling at pedestrians out of sheer unbridled enthusiasm for the minutiae of their gear. “This show is about making people feel better about themselves” says Rubinstein of , and clearly it’s this positive mental attitude that keeps him out of trouble–most of the time. Romany Williams spoke with Rubinstein about what matters: fashion hypocrisies and the street style circus.
Street style photography has become a mini whirlwind of high-fashion cosplay, and it’s a heavily saturated market. How did you get into the game before all of this?Given your almost anti-fashion aesthetic, it seems like high fashion embraced you early on...
I was working at Kate Spade, selling women’s shoes and handbags, trying to go to FIT to become an accessories designer. There were some old-school delivery guys from SoHo with British Knights sneakers and ties tucked into their pants, cool characters. I would take their picture with this little Canon Elph for inventory purposes. The girls on the creative team at Kate Spade told me that I should start a blog, so I put all of my photos on Flickr for years. After Kate Spade, Men’s approached me to be a market editor, that was a dream. It was my job to go out and bring the new stuff in, but after it wasn’t being shot for the magazine, I would shoot it for myself and hold onto the photos. Eventually, I started Mister Mort. I wanted to be the first reporter at the tradeshows. Anywhere there was fashion I wanted to be.Yeah, I got lucky. Working in SoHo and meeting Kate and Andy Spade. A lot of designers would shop there. Tommy Hilfiger, Andy Hilfiger would come in. All the clients were rock n’ rollers, music historians, authors, it was pretty cool. It was a time in SoHo when somebody came in stinking like weed, I didn’t even know what the smell was. They had holes in their pants, but they were Yohji Yamamoto. There would be real paint all over them because they’d be a painter. It wasn’t like “where’d you get that?” it was just cool. So yeah, they embraced me, the fashion people. Can you hold on just a sec?
Yeah.Damn, the tyranny of choice. Do you feel like your phone lets you get access to different content than the other photographers using big professional cameras?
Okay, sorry. Oh my god, I told myself I wasn’t going to do this but he was in high-waisted khakis, suspenders with buttons on the inside, totally trad – traditional menswear – and a Yale Grandpa hat! Yale in a typical Yale font, and then ‘Grandpa’, which I think is so funny because today there’s dad hats, and they’re so common and stupid, but I was at the NYU bookstore the other day and they have a hat that says NYU Dad, and I’m sure every school does, but now it’s funnier. I’m trying not to get distracted but that’s probably the third or fourth person that I’ve walked by and wanted to shoot, but I have my camera in my right hand and phone in my left. I used my phone for that, but I should have used my camera.Yes and no. Yesterday I’m outside Fashion Week, and the most incredibly dressed guy walked by, a normal looking guy, but he had these big, not Cartier but Cartier-like glasses on. Everyone’s shooting the same fashion idiots and when I see him, I’m like “oh I gotta get that” because nobody else is. Of course the minute I shoot some regular dude walking by fashion week, so many people are running after him. That’s life.
I saw that photo on your Instagram, I love it when men wear women’s sunglasses.Most people live life in a bubble. It’s impressive how confidently you approach people. How did you get so comfortable with talking to strangers?
They look super femme, and on a big guy like that! If you normally tell a big guy they’re wearing women’s sunglasses, they’ll punch you. I try not to call people out on what they’re wearing when they are 10 times my size, but he was super cool.I love that interaction. I feel like the only thing I have over other photographers is that I actually talk to people. I remember being at Pitti Uomo and these guys pull up with huge National Geographic-type lenses. It’s cool, but they’re not talking to the people, they don’t even know what they’re shooting half of the time. People just chase each other and shoot what everybody else is shooting. I try to shoot what nobody’s shooting. It’s funny now with Vetements, they’re all “regular people” in lookbooks. I see an old lady on Instagram in an amazing outfit, I’m about to like it, and then I realize that it’s Vetements and then I don’t want to like the photo.
On a recent episode of you talk about gender-based style rules, pink vs. blue, etc., and how pointless and arbitrary it all is. Do you think the next generation will embrace a new fluidity in their style?Why didn’t you?Shit! You’re one of those...
Oh god, I hope so. I’m scared at the same time, because I’m also so trad. I bought a sarong many years ago from A.P.C. and never wore it. I regret getting rid of it. I should have worn it right out of the store.I think it’s so cool, but it’s for the beach, and I’m not a beach guy. I’ll go to the beach, but I think you’ve got to be living on the beach for a day, you can’t just like go to the beach once. There’s that phrase “goes to the beach once,” I don’t want to be that guy walking around the city. It’s bad enough I’m wearing Grateful Dead sandals and I don’t know one Grateful Dead song. I’m an oxymoron.Yeah, exactly! And then I tell my friends I can’t stand the Dead, and they’re like, “You can’t say that.” I’m like, “You’re right, you’re right.” I shouldn’t. But it’s true!
I’m a true Levi’s, Wrangler, old school dude. I’ve never tried on designer denim I liked. With online shopping I want one in each size, because I’m a 31 waist, so I’ll size up and get a 32, but if it shows up and the 32 fits like a women’s zero, I’m screwed. Today I’m wearing seven-inch baggy Patagonia shorts, and then I’ll wear a five-inch sometimes just around Brooklyn and on the subway, you know? It’s like Lacoste, I want a five Lacoste, and then I want a number six Lacoste. I don’t play tennis, but there’s days that you want things just a little bigger, a little roomier. I’m not a heavy schvitzer but I like big stuff!
If they’re heavy knits, I’d wear them with some really baggy pants. If they’re a fine gauge wool like Merino, I like it under a dress shirt. I really want to do double knits, like a V-neck over a crewneck. A V-neck over a turtleneck in maybe the same color, or a shade off. But, a denim jacket with a turtleneck is always good. I think a tracksuit with a turtleneck could be cool. I like mixing wool with track stuff.
A track pant with a Gucci slipper, that mix is cool, but I that’s already all over the internet. When I wanted Raf Simons’ shiny Doc Martens years ago people laughed at me, and I was like, you don’t even know me! I want a skirt, I want a dress. I live to push buttons.
Men’s trousers, if they come cropped, it’s one thing, but this whole effect of customizing your jeans and khakis, just constantly ‘look at my ankle.’ I’m not a look at me guy. I want to be noticed, but I don’t want to outshine the street style peacocks. This whole look at me, look at me thing has to stop. I just want men to be comfortable in their own outfits. I hate to even use the word outfit, but it is.
I love the Medusa. It’s one of my favorite logos! Versace is one of the only houses that I think still kills it. It’s a garish logo, it’s gross, but it’s cool. I never had that stuff growing up and it definitely says, well it doesn’t say I’m a rich Russian gangster, but it could. My friend was a stylist for Drake and he put him in a Versace sweatsuit, and I wanted it ever since, not going to lie.