The 101-year-old New York eyewear brand with a social conscience arrives on MR PORTER this week
Above: Mr Hyman Moscot in front of the first MOSCOT shop on 94 Rivington Street, New York, circa 1934. Below: Messrs Zack and Harvey Moscot. Photographs courtesy of MOSCOT
With all the achingly cool bars, restaurants and hotels springing up at the moment, the Lower East Side of New York is the place to be right now. It is the place that MOSCOT has always been – ever since 1899, when Mr Hyman Mushcot emigrated to the “land of opportunity” from Prussia (now Belarus). A trained optician back in the old country, who spoke only Yiddish, Mr Mushcot sold spectacles made from standardised strengths of convex and concave lenses from a wooden handcart – now the company logo – on Orchard Street until he was able to open his first shop there in 1915.
Five generations and just over a century later, MOSCOT (as the name became) is one of the world’s oldest, independent, family-run eyewear companies. It is also one of the most recognised, thanks to the distinctive frames worn by a long list of the great and good, including Messrs Bob Dylan, Tim Burton, Elvis Costello and Johnny Depp.
“We put the eye in iconic,” says Dr Harvey Moscot, 55, the company’s fourth generation CEO and optometrist who coined the portmanteau “classiconic” as a trademark. His son and heir, Mr Zack Moscot, 25, trained as an industrial designer and now looks after product, reinventing its classic frames (MOSCOT Originals) as well as coming up with new designs (the MOSCOT Spirit range).
This week, MOSCOT launches on MR PORTER with exclusive, limited-edition iterations of its three most famous frames: the signature Lemtosh in blonde tortoiseshell, the rounder Miltzen in blue/grey tortoiseshell and the clubmaster-style Yukel in matt black acetate and metal. There are just 50 pairs of opticals and 50 pairs of sunglasses. “These three frames together really sum up who we are,” says Mr Moscot.
The brand has become world famous in recent years, but MOSCOT remains a family business and neighbourhood optician, still very much part of a tight-knit, local community. “My grandfather, Sol Moscot, was famous for fixing people’s glasses and making adjustments for free,” says Dr Moscot. “He would always say, ‘Next time you need a pair of new glasses, try us.’ So many people came back because of that. It was just good old-fashioned neighbourhood business sense.” He also used to handwrite thank-you letters to customers who referred others, and he knew many of his regulars by name. “We’ve tried to retain that family culture to this day,” says Dr Moscot. (This isn’t just a spiel. On a follow-up visit the week after this interview, Mr Moscot asks after my family, correctly recalling their names.)
Interior of the 118 Orchard Street shop, circa 1950. Photograph courtesy of MOSCOT
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Mr Sol Moscot provided free eye care and glasses to people who desperately needed them. That spirit of philanthropy lives on today in the company’s Mobileyes Foundation, which offers free eye tests and prescription glasses for underprivileged New Yorkers, supporting people in the community it is part of. “It’s very impactful,” says Dr Moscot. “A pair of glasses dramatically changes someone’s life instantly; helps them learn in school or gain employment.”
MOSCOT has managed to stay close to its origins, both in terms of location and ethos, despite the controversially rapid gentrification of the Lower East Side. In 2013, it was ousted from the building on Orchard Street that had been its headquarters for 77 years when the landlord sold it to developers. But MOSCOT had the foresight to negotiate a long-term lease on an even better building directly opposite, thus securing the company’s presence on the same street where Mr Hyman Moscot first pitched his cart. “We were born here; we will die here,” says Dr Moscot. That much is clear to see.
Exterior of the first MOSCOT shop on 94 Rivington Street, 1930s. Photograph courtesy of MOSCOT