Michael Moskowitz is a bit of an international man of mystery. Raised in Northern California, he attended boarding schools in Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Maine before matriculating to college in New York, and graduate school in the U.K. The first several years of his career were spent as a Middle East foreign policy research analyst at think tanks in the States and abroad, but he abandoned the field to do his own thing, launching a menswear label and a local monthly magazine. Although quite the impressive resume, best of all might be, “In 2009, I spent the winter in Lake Tahoe working as the mountain mascot at Squaw Valley: KT The Bear–enormous bear head; furry gloves and body suit; strict code of silence.”
This unusual trajectory led him to found Bureau of Trade last fall, a website geared towards (gentle)men with discerning taste. The site sifts through re-sellers such as eBay and Etsy and finds the things you don’t have the time to find on your own. Think: vintage watches, motorcycle jackets, first-edition books. With a $1.2 million dollar injection of venture capital money behind it, this is definitely more of a well curated shop where the proprietor has a story for every piece rather than a flea market on the street. Recently, they have also started partnering with smaller, artisanal brands and offering up direct exclusives from companies. Here, we sat down with Moskowitz to ask him a few questions about his vision for Bureau of Trade.
Katherine: What made you decide to start Bureau of Trade?
Michael: I was fed up with commerce sites and major men’s lifestyle publications that relentlessly push the same stories, people, and products, using an all but identical tone and tack. I wanted to deliver a different form of entertainment (and engagement) that doesn’t drum up artificial desire, but cultivates a sense of genuine intrigue. I wanted to rely on learning and laughter to drive lust. The Bureau is designed to make a banal, empty errand like ‘shopping’ into a meaningful, resonant, didactic endeavor. That’s precisely why everything we feature tells a story, and telegraphs a message about who you are today, or pre-figures the person you someday aspire to be. With a hawk. And a Jaguar. (One pet. One pilot-able car.)
Katherine: Why do you feel a website like this is needed?
Michael: We live in an era defined by mind-numbing abundance. It’s sheer madness, not liberation. The notion of luxury today rings increasingly hollow because it’s no longer measured by beauty or by scarcity alone–it’s determined by specificity, by comfort, and by meaning. Choice doesn’t offer salvation. Choice is increasingly a burden, more enervating than energizing. The Bureau sifts through the world’s largest marketplaces so you don’t have to. We cut the noise and find items that are genuinely unique and special, without looking like they were pulled out of the bargain bin at a charity shop. Although charity itself is still a virtue.
Katherine: What is your favorite item or story you have curated on Bureau?
Michael:Thunder. 40+ years of proprietary audio recordings that capture the plangent sounds of rolling, booming, rapturous thunder. On LP. Forthcoming from the Bureau this spring.
Katherine: Do you find the items first or the theme? Where do you get the inspiration?
Michael:There’s no universally applicable method or approach. (But we do have systems to mitigate the madness.) On occasion, we operate like Texas oil prospectors circa 1901: pick a plot and start drilling. A film we love, a car we cherish, or a foreign dictator we want to punish, whatever needles or goads us to act, and then we assemble goods around them.
Katherine: What makes something special enough to be featured on your website?
Michael:The story, period. End of story. Either the designer, the piece, or the original owner must have an accompanying narrative that arrests your attention. But visual appeal is equally important. If it’s not beautiful, it belongs elsewhere.
Katherine: You have both dogs and humans on your website. Anything else particularly shocking?
Michael:We’ve curated everything from Russian brides to Victorian dentures, giant pieces of the Berlin Wall and taxidermy werewolf hands. Even mummy cartonage. I wouldn’t characterize any of these things as expressly shocking, but you won’t find them at Bergdorf’s anytime soon.
Katherine: Is there anything you have found in your searches that was so good, but just didn’t fit on the website?
Michael: Copious amounts. And on a daily basis. But those ‘finds’ or what we call ‘Cleared Goods’ will soon be available to subscribers as part of a new category called ‘Quarantine & Contraband.’
Katherine: Have you ever found any really terrible things in your searches that you care to share about?
Michael: In the interests of decency, we’ve turned down items like Qaddafi’s bloody shirt for $3M, and a collection of Ted Bundy’s personal musings penned from prison. But I can assure you that other, less homicidal sorts of perverse merchandise will make their way on to the Bureau in the months to come. Cleaner rarities.
Katherine: The website feels very cool, very manly, like Steve McQueen. Who were some of your male heroes growing up?
Michael: I fear heroes. Lycra isn’t my thing.
Katherine: What’s next for the website?
Michael: Direct sales of deadstock treasures that haven’t been available for decades – or on this side of the Iron Curtain. Plus, we’ll soon be hosting a private dinner series. And live-auctions, on a city-by-city basis.
Katherine: Any plans for a women’s version?
Michael: Yes. Eventually. But in terms of a timeline or a specific date, I plead ‘Yogi Berra’: it’s difficult to make predictions, especially when it comes to the future.