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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 hasidic 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 hasidim 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, a Queens 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 hasidim 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 hasidic 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.