Multimedia installation is not a novelty on the contemporary art scene. Even the inventive fusing of avant-garde couture, architecture and video is not without precedent. However, The Jewish Museum’s exhibition “threeASFOUR: MER KA BA,” is hallowed ground. This is space made sacred by its fervid devotion to intricate detail and the purity of its spiritual vision. The effect is disorienting and ethereal.
Breaking with traditional color scheme, some Chabad men pushing fashion boundaries.
Yosel Tiefenbrun looked in the mirror, and he liked what he saw.
The 23-year-old Chabad rabbi and apprentice at Maurice Sedwell, a bespoke tailor’s shop on London’s Savile Row, was wearing a vintage double-breasted jacket with gold buttons, tasseled Barker shoes, a claret bow tie and matching handmade hat and square handkerchief. Then he ran out the door to attend the “Oscars of tailoring” — the Golden Shears Award ceremony honoring the best in British fashion.
Several of his colleagues were in the running for a prize. They came back empty, but Tiefenbrun did not.
Nick Carvell, the online fashion editor at British GQ, snapped his picture and posted it the following day on the magazine’s website, naming Tiefenbrun “best in show.” Within days, the photograph of the chasidic rabbi and his natty attire was picked up by Jewish publications around the world.
“This is a very important message,” Tiefenbrun told JTA. “You can be a [religious] man and still be successful in whatever you do if you are constantly working on yourself and keeping your Jewish life alive.”
Chasidic Jews are well known for flouting the conventions of contemporary fashion, adhering to a strict dress code that originated in Eastern Europe and emphasizes modesty and piety. For men, the uniform mandates a black hat, coat and pants with a white shirt.
But in recent years, some haredi women have sought to push the limits of tznius, or modesty, wearing more elaborate and, in some cases, slightly more revealing clothes. Now a group of young men affiliated with the Chabad chasidic movement are doing the same, in some cases breaking dramatically with their community’s sartorial codes.
Last year, Rabbi Dovi Scheiner and his wife, Esty, a Chabad couple who run the “boutique” Soho Synagogue in Lower Manhattan, were named among the Big Apple’s 50 best dressers by Stylecaster, a fashion news website. The 36-year-old rabbi posed for the online outlet sitting on a velvet chair wearing a smart gray suit and laceless Converse sneakers.
Meanwhile, Mendy Sacho, a South African designer based in New York, has gained mainstream media attention for his innovative take on kapotas, the long black frocks worn by chasidic men. Sacho invigorates the traditionally drab coats by adding colorful linings and a sharper cut.
Rather than seeing their sartorial sensibilities as a departure from traditional dress, this new crop of fashionable chasidim tend to see being stylish and religiously observant as complementary.
“Look at the rebbe,” said Sacho, referring to Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late spiritual leader of Chabad. “When he was young, he was a very well-groomed man. The style he wore in the ’50s in France is the style many Chabadniks are now adopting.”
Photos of Schneerson from the period show him in dapper outfits that sharply contrast with the conservative look he adopted later as Chabad’s leader.
Samuel Heilman, aQueens College sociologist and co-author of a biography of Schneerson, said the rebbe’s followers have tended to overlook those years in Paris, partially because of the liberal taste in clothes he exhibited.
“[In his youth] he dressed in a much more cosmopolitan fashion, sometimes wearing a beret,” Heilman said. “In the absence of a living rebbe, there are capacities for all these chasidim to project on the rebbe all sorts of things that would not be possible if he were alive.”
Tiefenbrun, who served as a religious emissary in Singapore for two years before returning to London, wears suits that are much more ostentatious than the subtly augmented frocks sold by Sacho. On his Tumblr page, Tiefenbrun posts photos of himself in outfits not commonly seen on chasidic men. His style favors boldly colored shoes, trendy hats, bow ties, sharply cut jackets and pocket squares.
Tiefenbrun spends a day-and-a-half each week learning his craft at Maurice Sedwell’s tailoring academy. The rest of the week he works the front desk, where he has waited on sheiks, soccer players and TV personalities.
One non-Jewish client, noticing his yarmulke, asked him for a blessing for his shirts. Another discovered they had a mutual acquaintance, the Chabad emissary in San Diego. But Tiefenbrun is careful to note that his clothing choices are his alone and not emblematic of any Chabad-specific trend.
“It’s not like it’s a Chabad thing; it’s me,” Tiefenbrun insisted. “I love art. I love quality clothing.”
With its sprawling global network of emissaries working to inspire religious observance among secular Jews, it’s perhaps little surprise that Chabadniks are practically alone within the chasidic world in pushing the boundaries, if gently, of their community’s dress codes.
“One can make the case Chabad, more than any other chasidic group, is in direct contact with the non-chasidic world, so they have a real good feel for that world outside,” Heilman said. “They have learned how to recruit there.”
Sacho said there is little interest in his stylish kapotas from members of other chasidic communities. Chabad men are selling “a product called Judaism” to the wider world, he said, and that tradition impacts their choice of clothes.
“People will listen and appreciate you more if you dress well and look presentable,” he said.
Within the confines of the chasidic community, however, it’s often a different story. Young customers come in looking for one thing, but then their mother arrives and “chews my ear off,” Sacho said.
But still, Sacho insists the style-conscious community is growing in the Chabad world and someday kapotas like his will be the norm.
“There are quite a few of us,” Sacho said. “All my clients are younger. It’s the future.”
At first blush, religious Muslim and Jewish women may not seem to have
much in common given the power of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to
dominate conversation and sour relations between the two groups.
My son Joel, age 7, and my daughter Talia, almost 10, lean on my shoulders, staring at the computer screen in disbelief. Here was something that didn’t fit their notion of the world. Grown men spitting? At a child? Because her long skirts weren’t long enough? A sincere and sweet boy, Joel wondered if these men, these ultra-Orthodox lunatics of Beit Shemesh, in Israel, had ever read the Torah.
Inaugural Tel Aviv Fashion Week has industry observers wondering.
Jessica Steinberg JTA
Tel Aviv — For Israeli fashionistas, last week’s inaugural Tel Aviv Fashion Week proved what they’ve known for years: Israeli fashion is creative, current and worthy of worldwide attention — and, hopefully, sales.
“I wanted to help my business and help my country,” said organizer Ofir Lev, deputy CEO of the Israel Textile and Fashion Association and a former model. “I wanted to show that there is fashion and creativity in Israel.”
There are so many student clubs at New York University that it takes a lot for one of them to get noticed. So the Iranian Jewish Club, which was launched five years ago but has kept a low profile, tried something guaranteed to make a splash: a little glamour.
More than 300 people packed into the Rosenthal Pavilion in the Kimmel Center at NYU recently to get a glimpse of sparkly gowns, flashy cocktail dresses, hip-hop outfits and graceful wedding gowns parading down the runway.