As CEO and founder of the men’s style site, Bureau of Trade, Michael Phillips Moskowitz plays several roles. Mainly, his mission is to inspire you by bringing a fresh editorial perspective and novel curatorial spirit to globally sourced finds that fall into rich monthly (and weekly) motifs like ‘Tokyo on the Thames’ and ‘Thinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.’ The result? A treasure trove of vintage timepieces, clothing, classic cars and more—geared mostly to men—except if you’re into that borrowed from the boys look, which we totally are. We sat down with the man behind the Bureau for a quick chat about style and substance.
How old are you?
Where do you live?
I currently live in Oakland, chiefly on account of the sunshine. But the fact that I live in California at all is at best and entirely coincidental. I haven’t held a residence back East for more than 10 years, but New York is still for all intents and purposes.
Everyone asks. I happen to think that we’re each wound or strung in our own way, to a specific frequency. When you hold a tuning fork in close proximity to a stringed instrument it reverberates. It resonates. And I sound discordant on the West Coast.
How did the Bureau come about?
I returned to the Bay Area after graduate school in London; I had a job at Stanford. I worked for a year as a research assistant at the Center for International Security and Cooperation for a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Herb Abrams. We focused on Afghanistan and Iraq issues. I couldn’t bear the thought of moving back to Washington, which was where I took my first job after college. I was actively contemplating leaving the Middle East “fold”—and did.
I co-founded a men’s clothing label, called Gytha Mander, and ran the company as creative director for two years, before selling it. Then I co-founded a magazine in San Francisco, a portable, pocket-sized city guide called TODO. When the economy tanked, I took to Tahoe and worked as the mountain mascot at Squaw Valley for a season: KT The Bear. In the spring, I moved to Palo Alto to accept a role at IDEO, and stayed for nearly three years.
When the economy tanked, I took to Tahoe and worked as the mountain mascot at Squaw Valley for a season: KT The Bear. In the spring, I moved to Palo Alto to accept a role at IDEO, and stayed for nearly three years.
I always planned to launch another company and 18 months in, I started running a series of experiments. The first was called WhatWouldMatthewMcConaugheyDo.com and it mysteriously, really inexplicably took off. It wasn’t the actual Torso from Texas. It was just me fielding questions from psychopaths all around the world, distilling the essence of Matthew McConaughey—assuming he read Schopenhauer and Heidegger. It got picked up by Forbes and Thrillist, was voted the #1 best way to waste time at work by the Huffington Post, and suddenly it was everywhere. But I wasn’t remotely scalable. Or of interest to me as a real business. It was a meant to be a joke. So I said to a friend: All I really want to do is a combination of content and commerce and he said: Well, why don’t you do that? And I thought, oh. Yeah. Why don’t I just do that…
So I snuck away for several days to attend a dear friend’s bachelor party in Reykjavik and sat around with several New York VCs and entrepreneurs that helped crystallize the vision. When I got home, I started working on it in stealth mode, feverishly, and quietly launched an alpha version three months later. Our subscriber base rose meteorically and I had a VC deal in hand, two weeks after our initial launch. I then stayed at IDEO for another two months to finish work on a global awareness campaign from Samsung that garnered five million views, and I finally left to focus on the Bureau.
Why did you make the switch from economics to fashion?
None of my op-ed pieces in graduate school were getting picked up or published by the Guardian, Times of London, or any other local paper. Print or digital. Dispiriting. Out of the blue, or more accurately the black one night, returning home from Paris—notably, during a highpoint of anti-Semitic attacks in London and Paris, more than at any time since 1936—I was wearing some outrageous outfit that I’d ordered from a tailor and this woman on the street, slowing down in a car, screams: “Eh, eh you!” And I thought, “Bless, it’s going to be beat down on the Jew.” So I started scurrying down a side street. The wheels of the car spin, smoke billows, she hauls ass after me, hops out of the car, and says: “Wherever did you have that blazer made?” With relief, and a bit wet with fear, I said: “Oh, this thing?” It turned out she was a stylist for The Face, which was, at the time, the preeminent British fashion publication—Vanity Fair meets Vice. That blazer ended up in the magazine, and I figured if these little or big ‘breaks’ were occurring unsolicited, maybe there was something to this fashion thing. So when I got back to the states I partnered with a brother of an old friend: he was an attorney that wanted to leave law, and I was an analyst that wanted to start a fashion company. So we did precisely that. The line, called Gytha Mander, was a little bit Paul Smith, a little bit Etro—only for an American and Japanese audience at a more approachable price point.
Did you go to design school?
I went to FIT for a summer. I took an art course. That hardly constitutes design experience. But I’d been poring through fashion magazines since I was barely verbal. Cutting models out, posting them in scrap books or bedside. All that rot, and doing it since I was five.
Yeah, a lot of designers don’t have formal training…
I’ve always gravitated toward people whose lives, thinking, and values stand or hang as rich patchworks. As eclectic as eclectic gets.
Are those people who’ve inspired you?
I’ve always gravitated toward people whose lives, thinking, and values stand or hang as rich patchworks. As eclectic as eclectic gets. Disciplined political scientists who leave the academy to write fiction; television producers who start piecing together twin-engine prop planes out of exotic wood, that sort of thing. Frankly, I think anybody that is utterly and unequivocally committed to achieving measurable impact at scale, is hugely inspiring. Whether they want to bring potable water to remote villages in Kenya, or want to promote civic engagement in Peru, or create the world’s most superlative online reading experience, or doggedly pursue a cure for malaria. Whatever it is—as long as they have a sense of themselves in the world, or in the universe, and are singularly passionate about really making a measurable difference—I find that inspiring.
What’s your favorite Sunday activity?
Years ago I probably could have answered that question. My only Sunday activity for the last several years has been work. When I’m away from the computer I feel a heroine addict’s yearning: a shaking compulsion to get back to the metaphorical needle, and for me that’s my laptop… But in the future, how I imagine spending a Sunday likely involves tennis with a close friend, and recovery elixirs in the company of a dog that I don’t yet have.
Ok. Exercise. A dog. Anything else?
The company of a loved one. Right now I know as much about companionship as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who to the best of my knowledge is whiling away in solitary confinement in a Russian prison. For the rest of us sinners.
What’s your favorite lunch spot?
There’s an absolutely remarkable place in Yafo, next to Tel Aviv, for hummus, pita, and all the spiced accoutrements. So simple. Sensational.
What do you like to read?
Lamentably, I have less time to pore though fiction these days, but I still do keep a steady, almost orthodox diet of: The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Monocle, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Fast Company. Also, a few obscure European magazines that frankly aren’t great reading experiences but they’re great browsing experiences, moments of respite from the norm, an intimate engagement with an inanimate object—that’s still one of my favorite pastimes.
Favorite movie of all time: The Big Lebowski, which I’ve seen well north of 200 times. Admittedly, there might be ‘finer films’ according to cineastes who speak affected English. But this isn’t about contesting slots in the all-time top-ten. It’s about nourishing the soul.