Catching up with NYC’s infamous Rabbi tailor Yosel Tiefenbrun

Fancy going bespoke but not so keen on schlepping to Savile Row? Sharp-dressed New Yorkers are now heading out to Williamsburg instead, where the tailoring house of Tiefenbrun is causing a stir. It’s perhaps not the most obvious place to get measured up for a suit — but then, Yosel Tiefenbrun is not your average tailor. Dapper and Instagram-savvy, with neat, round glasses and a long, red beard, he also happens to be an ordained rabbi.

Raised in London and trained on Savile Row, Tiefenbrun moved to Singapore after his apprenticeship and juggled the two professions before taking a leap of faith and opening his Brooklyn atelier in 2017. It’s a partnership: Tiefenbrun focuses on his craftsmanship while his wife Chaya takes care of the business side of things. And his rabbi training? Turns out it’s pretty handy when it comes to communicating with clients and understanding what they need.

So Tov caught up with the rabbi-turned-tailor for an interview.

What was the highlight of your time in Savile Row?

The highlight I think was learning from some of the older tailors who worked at the back of the shop. I always enjoyed seeing how the different makers would practice their craft — each had their own unique ways and differences in how they went about things. Learning from the elders was one of the highlights for sure. 

Are there many other tailoring houses in NYC? How is your cut different, and how is it different from the Savile Row cut?

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Our head tailor @rabbitailor cutting a pair of trousers.

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There aren’t too many tailors in NYC. There is a handful of them that each has their own cut, and also their own way of making. I would say most of the other tailors in NYC are from an Italian background, or at least educated at Italian tailors, so their cut and make will be more aligned with Italian tailoring.

My tailoring is more towards a British cut and make, which is my Savile Row training. But what separates me from Savile Row is that I definitely have my own unique style. I tend to use a little less drape than some of the traditional houses on the Row. I like more of a fitted garment, with a nice roped shoulder and peak lapels. 

It’s so lovely that there is still a place in the modern world for bespoke tailoring and traditional techniques. Are you seeing a revival in NYC?

There is definitely a growing trend of young people who are interested in and curious about bespoke and about the craft — shoemaking as well as suit making. People are looking for the ultimate experience, to know where something is made, and to have that relationship with the person who actually makes it.

Can you explain a little about the shatnez rules — the challenges they present and how you work around them?

Shatnez is very specific — we can’t wear a garment that has wool and linen combined. And that means whether it’s the fabric alone that has the combination, or if it’s a piece of canvas that is sewn into any part of the garment. By the way, this also includes a pillow on your couch, and other items in your home. But what’s interesting is that it refers only to wool from sheep and lambs. Other wools such as camel wool, mohair and cashmere are allowed. 

Traditionally, linen is used in the collars and pockets, and some even use it in the body canvas. I’ve managed to find great cotton replacements for the undercollar and pockets. And my regular body canvas and chest canvas have no problem with shatnez.

Can you talk a bit about your design inspiration? I understand that orthodox rabbis were a big influence on your style.

When I mentioned about orthodox rabbis having an influence on my style, I was referring to great rabbis of the past, generations ago, who used to wear beautifully tailored garments. I love taking inspiration from classic movies and from different eras of tailoring, and from historical tailoring in general. I do admire Ralph Lauren for his abilities to bring together classic craftsmanship with everyday workwear — that is something that I love doing as well. 

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Susannah Cohen is a fashion journalist, e-commerce editor (specialist subjects: lingerie and diamonds) and Jewish mom. Recently relocated from London to the West Coast, she’s feeling a lot more spiritual these days.