Moscot: The Vintage Eyewear Brand Capturing a Slice of the American Dream
In the latest film "Oppenheimer," Robert Downey Jr. wears a pair of Moscot glasses for his titular role. These vintage accessories tell the story of the Moscot family—a tale of immigration, hard work, and business acumen. Harvey and Zack Moscot, the current custodians of the brand, are nostalgic heirs to the American dream.
By Cristina D’Agostino07 septembre 2023
The history of Moscot, a now-trendy eyewear brand, dates back over a century to the streets of New York, reflecting the promise of the American dream at the time. Like many others, Hyman Moscot arrived from Eastern Europe in 1899 with a few dollars in his pocket, passing through Ellis Island. Like so many others at the turn of the 19th century, he aspired to a fresh start. The patriarch built his success story by selling eyeglasses on the streets of the Lower East Side in New York. A decade later, Hyman Moscot opened his first shop at 94 Rivington Street. The rest, as they say, is history—a legend of dedication, intuition, and business savvy passed down through generations. Harvey and his son Zack continue to nurture these qualities and the vintage yet distinctly New York spirit that resonates with Millennials today.
The Moscot Originals frames, highly distinctive, encapsulate the stylistic codes of the 1930s to the 1980s, drawing inspiration from the brand's archives. Crafted in acetate at the Moscot New York City Labs, these frames exude a powerful and iconic look. Lemtosh, Miltzen, or Dahven draw from Yiddish words, a language deeply rooted in the Moscot family since the first generation. Celebrities like Johnny Depp, Demi Moore, Paul McCartney, and Harry Styles are all fans of the Lemtosh line, designed by Moscot in the 1940s. However, it was Andy Warhol who lived not far from the Lower East Side boutique and cemented the fame of the transparent acetate Milzen frames.
Today, the brand is distributed in over 2,500 points of sale across more than 50 countries, boasting 23 Moscot boutiques. Harvey and Zack Moscot are determined to uphold the family legacy and success, sticking to a formula that hasn't changed: eyeglasses with thick, instantly recognizable vintage frames, robust rivets, and hinges with various options—all produced in the same Asian workshops for half a century. Yet, Zack Moscot, trained as an industrial designer, doesn't just preserve his ancestors' history and designs. This year, he introduces five new lines, drawing inspiration from 1960s to 1980s aviator trends but with a fresh perspective. "For fall 2023, we've embraced audacity. Inspired by the inimitable fashion of Lower East Side characters, the five new frames have been designed to stand out as much as the legends who wear them." An exclusive interview with the fourth and fifth-generation Moscot heirs who are creating a sensation with the vintage boutique spirit of old New York neighborhoods.
What sets Moscot apart in today's crowded market?
Harvey: We are a historic brand founded by my great-grandfather, an optician. Since then, we have built a long-standing expertise in optics, beginning in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 20th century. We've all worked there. When you wear Moscot glasses, you're wearing a rich history of immigration, hard work, and craftsmanship. You're carrying a piece of Downtown New York City that has evolved over the past century.
Zack: What sets us apart is the fact that we're still a family business, which allows us to focus primarily on the product, my father and me. We have the freedom to invest in quality and craftsmanship without constantly chasing the trends of younger generations.
As an independent brand, how do you compete against large corporations that invest heavily in marketing?
Zack: Our capabilities are different. We don't have the millions that these brands spend on marketing, but we are steadily growing. We travel the world to carefully select each store location, ensuring it's a profitable business. It's a strategic and ongoing effort that involves not just the product and store but also the 200 employees we've hired worldwide, all with the goal of aligning with our customers' expectations.
Selling glasses today requires selling a lifestyle and experience. Yours is rooted in vintage and nostalgia. How will you continue to appeal to customers in the future?
Zack: The concept of nostalgia is woven into our history because we inherit an ethos, a skill set, and a way of approaching sales and after-sales service. However, we are continually evolving in our designs. We create dozens of new lines each year. They draw inspiration from the past but reflect the contemporary world. We are an old brand, but the way we operate is highly sophisticated. We leverage the latest development technologies, our digital platform, and social media to engage with our customers on TikTok or Instagram.
Harvey: You know, I grew up in the family store, I'm an optometrist, I work in the store, I sell glasses, and I understand the customers and what they expect when they walk into one of our boutiques. Our customers span all ages, with needs ranging from highly specific prescription eyewear to stylish sunglasses.
You've mentioned that it's now the fifth generation of Moscot leading the brand. In your opinion, what are the most challenging values to pass on to the sixth generation?
Zack: We have core values inherent to the Moscot family: being fair, staying true to who we are, and treating the customer with the utmost care. As we open stores worldwide, the most challenging part is maintaining the sense of being one big family and ensuring that, no matter where in the world, entering a Moscot store feels like stepping into the original Lower East Side boutique.
Harvey: Our business will never grow too fast due to success, nor will our prices unreasonably increase. Customer service is paramount; our mission is to meet their needs with the highest quality for optical and sun wear. I'm deeply involved in our internal knowledge-sharing programs. We spend a lot of time with the teams in each store. The idea is to work seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.
Zack: There's no bureaucracy; decisions are made quickly. We’re very agile because it's just Harvey and me. That's an advantage in the face of competition.
You're also expanding your brand into the music world. You've organized an exhibition titled "PUNK & BEYOND: LEGENDS OF THE LOWER EAST SIDE." Is this a way to reach out to younger audiences?
Harvey: We never do anything with the intention of pleasing a specific audience. Everything must be organic for Zack and I. We're both musicians; we play the guitar. I introduced the musical aspect into our business very spontaneously. One day, when the weather was stormy and the store was empty, I started playing, and a friend came in and began singing. Customers started trickling in. I saw their enthusiasm, their enjoyment. I realized that my passion could now be part of the business. This is also what we do with the Moscot Mobileyes initiative. I felt the need to give back to the community, to New Yorkers in need who couldn't afford a pair of glasses. The "PUNK & BEYOND: LEGENDS OF THE LOWER EAST SIDE" exhibition helped raise funds to support music programs in underprivileged schools.
Zack: This organic approach is also what happens with actors and artists who wear our glasses, for example, in the film "Oppenheimer." They all wear Moscot simply because they know the brand, its style, and its spirit. Today, we want to continue our charitable actions around the world, wherever our boutiques are located.
What are your strategies for the next five years?
Harvey: Continue telling our story and selling our glasses through our boutiques. Multibrand stores are important, of course, but the Moscot store can truly convey the story in all its facets. We already have 23 stores worldwide and plan to open more, perhaps 20 more, by 2030.
You're a very American brand. How do you manage to appeal to the European audience, which has a wide range of brand choices?
Zack: It's actually the American market that can be challenging to win over! (laughs)
Harvey: Zack is right. I think Europeans or Asians are particularly sensitive to the fashion and style aspect of glasses. Take French culture, for example: the French know how to choose a pair of glasses to affirm or change an aspect of their identity, like a genuine accessory to their personality, and they've been doing this long before everyone else caught on. Americans still see glasses primarily as a medical accessory... The United States is still a young country. Sophistication doesn’t always reach their desired level at times.
Where are your manufacturing facilities located?
Zack: We make our lenses in the United States, we source the frame raw materials from Germany or Italy for acetate, and the frames themselves have been produced in China in the same family-owned workshops for the past 50 years. They're the best in the business. It's a long-standing partnership. Another family story!
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