If you're on Instagram, you know The Fat Jewish. Even if you're not on the social media app, you likely still do, whether it's through his comedic stunts around New York City (which he refers to as "performance art"), his appearances at some of the world's biggest events (think everything from the Cannes Film Festival to New York Fashion Week), or the countless articles that hit the internet this past August, accusing him of being "a thief" who has made a living (and achieved significant online fame and virality) by "stealing everyone's jokes."
Like other undeniably popular celebrities of our generation (most notably, the Kardashian-Jenner family), The Fat Jewish — née Josh Ostrovsky — has both a loyal, cult-like fan base millions-strong that he's amassed on Instagram and a slew of serious haters — people like comedy writer Maura Quint, who has openly called him out on the above: “This man makes nothing, contributes nothing, originates nothing, he is a leech, he is a virus, he is what is wrong with the world," she posted on Facebook on August 15. "Please please please do not support him. He is pure trash.” Yet, despite the various criticisms that hit Ostrovsky this past year, he's managed to propel his career way beyond the Insta-sphere: He signed with CAA and scored a modeling contract with One Management, launched a line of wine called White Girl Rosé with Babe Walker, and wrote a memoir, Money Pizza Respect.
But it's not just this viral sensibility that has established Ostrovsky as a power player in the internet age. He's also, quite surprisingly, found an unlikely second home in the fashion industry. This year alone, he attend the CFDA Awards in June (snapping selfies with the style world's biggest names) and presented a collection at Milk Studios during Fashion Week. His dog/right-hand companion, Insta-celeb Toast Meets World, appeared in Karen Walker's sunglasses campaign. Ostrovsky sat front row at the designer's show and says he "genuinely [wears her] every single day. (He claims to own "37 pairs" of her sunglasses.) The thing about Ostrovsky, though, is that he isn't your typical fashion-world darling. He's crude, explicit, and doesn't have your typical private-trainer-sculpted physique (he openly refers to himself as a "plus-size model"). So how did a a self-proclaimed "Z-list celebrity," find his way into the middle of one of the most judgmental businesses to ever exist? "I’m a big fan of fashion, I always have been," Ostrovsky told me. "I grew up in New York City and [my friends and I] would try to crash Fashion Week parties to get free booze [laughs]. I grew up around it, and I’m just super into it. And I feel like fashion needs a turn up; some of these things get kind of stuffy. I was at the CFDA Awards and they were amazing, obviously, honoring big people who do amazing things, but they’re not necessarily that fun. And I feel like I can bring a little bit of party. I like being surrounded by rich, talented, and empowered gay men and bossy ladies at all times. And fashion is really the only industry where you can consistently have that, as well as beautiful, futuristic, androgynous models from Copenhagen. It’s like, 'Is that a man? A woman?' Doesn’t matter! And I love it."
What may be considered Ostrovsky's turning point in the industry, though, is when he staged a fashion show at Milk Studios this past September that shined a spotlight on "Dad Fashion." Many were confused; others thought it was a joke. But as Vogue wrote in its "review" of the show, his presentation actually "stood out amid the Fashion Week buzz because it featured people of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities having fun;" that amidst the hoopla of The Fat Jew initiating a runway show, he might have actually done the industry some good. "I have been wanting to show at Fashion Week for a long time. I’ve been friends with the people who run Milk and MADE Fashion Week [Ed. note: I reached out to MADE for a comment and they declined]. So I said [to them], let’s do something different," he explains. "The whole thing with fashion is that no one cares. You look at Kanye’s line, for example, and it’s supposed to look like nobody gives a fuck. A lot of fashion is very like, 'I woke up like this' — or at least that’s what they’re going for. But like, the only people who really are waking up like this and not giving a fuck at all are dads. So I really wanted to celebrate them as fashion icons. They’ll wear anything and they’ll own the shit out of it. They’ll wear a free T-shirt from a 5K run from seven years ago and be like, 'Oh, you don’t like it? Fuck you.' And that’s really what fashion is about — just owning it and saying, 'I look good, I don’t care what you think.' But really, people do care what you think...except dads." To cast the show, Ostrovsky found real dads off the streets and off Craigslist, aiming to bring something that fashion seems to often lack: authenticity. Most of the "models" brought their own clothes, too, meaning there were tons of golf vests, baseball caps, and leather loafers involved. The style wasn't what you'd expect, but that wasn't really the point. Instead, it was about delivering the unpredictable, or, as MADE Fashion Week cofounder Jenné Lombardo told The Cut in September, "His keen eye, ability to identify trends, and the high probability that he has fathered a yet-to-be-identified child has always kept him at the forefront of culture."
It might seem unlikely that a man who sports a "hairection" on the daily could be an industry trendsetter, but, in a rare serious moment of reflection, Ostrovsky told me that he had a genuine mission behind his Fashion Week spectacle. "I wanted to bring in a group of models who had never been to Fashion Week before. I had dads from Queens saying, 'What is this? A whole week of clothes?' It’s that kind of exclusivity that made me want to get different types people involved. Even from a plus-size modeling standpoint, I’m trying to shift the perception a little bit about what kinds of body types are okay to have and learning to own it. "Just look at how many incredible plus-size female models there are. There are so many of them changing the perception — or at least trying to — of what kind of shapes are okay for a woman to have. But there aren’t that many male versions of that; for guys, I think it’s still like, 'Oh, you have to have abs to your eyeballs.' But I’ve had people come to me and say, 'Thank you for making it okay.' Right now, I feel like I’m one of the only ones who’s pushing forward and saying it’s okay to look however you want. Fashion should be a party for everybody, right?" The most surprising facet, though, is that an industry so obsessed with personal appearance and exclusivity has welcomed Ostrovsky with open arms, and that there's been a bit of a mutual appreciation for each other's madness. "The fashion industry thrives on subversion, and Josh is all about that," designer Karen Walker tells Refinery29. "So it was inevitable that he would infiltrate the industry. It's an industry that's obsessed with pop culture and Josh's dominance on Instagram has given him that residence and, in fact, made him a pop culture icon. I don't know any pop culture icons who haven't polarized the audience — including Mother Teresa; Diana, Princess of Wales; Barack Obama; and Coca-Cola. Why not Josh Ostrovsky, as well?"
I wouldn't go so far to compare The Fat Jewish to Mother Teresa or Barack Obama, but when it comes to the idea of disruption and breaking the mold in an industry that fights to maintain a specific image, Walker has a point. Plus, at the core of it, fashion — for lack of a better word — operates off borrowing, recycling, and jumping onto other people's ideas...or copying each other, which is exactly what Ostrovsky has been accused of. "I’m a child of the internet, I was born out of it," he says. "And I’m a big fan of idea-sharing, creative commenting, and inspiring each other — as long as everybody feels like they’re getting credit where credit is due. But sharing different takes on different things, that’s what the internet’s about, and that’s basically what fashion’s about. And as long as everyone feels good about it, I’m happy." At the end of the day, Ostrovsky is exactly the type of person the fashion industry feeds on. And in ways, he's no different than your favorite blogger: he gets paid to make appearances and post branded content on social media, has his own defined personal style, and has gone completely viral, regardless of whether you understand why he's actually so damn famous in the first place.