‘I don’t make clothes for the beach,” said Ronen Chen as he flipped through the catalogue of his Summer 2014 collection. Photographed on the wild beaches of Beit Yanai, the glossy pages feature shots of a glamorously casual models in easy-fitting attire from shorts and tank tops to evening gowns.
Chen’s label, which many women have come to consider a retail home base, boasts sophisticated, wearable garments that are made to flatter a wide range of figures. For the most part, these clothes are structured pieces, making the 2014 collection a bit of an outlier.
“I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but I felt that I wanted to make something very loose and relaxed. It’s for the same woman, just on her day off,” he smiled.
The collection offers practical, comfortable and affordable solutions to meet the demands of the scorching Israeli summer.
Chen’s venture into vacation wear is a refreshing one, adding a welcome hue to his well-established palette.
It was Chen’s 49th birthday, but instead of taking the day off, he showed up bright and early to his south Tel Aviv studio to get to work on translating pieces from his recent show at Gindi Fashion Week into marketable, ready-to-wear clothing. One of the highlights of the March extravaganza, Chen shocked the fashion community with a sleek, edgy and dark runway show overflowing with drama.
“I don’t do a lot of fashion shows. I wanted to find the right way to present my clothes, to give them that extra something for the event,” he explained.
Into his lineup, Chen threw in a little bit of history, perhaps to privately celebrate the label’s 20th anniversary. Among the wool capes and metallic blouses was nestled the first garment Chen ever designed – a black button-down men’s shirt with fabric wings stretching from wrist to waist.
“I made this shirt 25 years ago, before I existed,” he laughed. “It’s very right for today’s fashion. It was special for me to put it in the show because it represented, at least for me, the aesthetic line and language I have been working with always and forever.
That’s what defines my fashion house, that we present a look that is clean and graphic.”
The 20th anniversary poetically coincided with the closing of Chen’s flagship store on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv. In 1994, fresh to the business, Chen took a leap of faith and rented the modest space. He eventually acquired the apartments above and behind the shop, turning them into a studio. As the business grew, Chen moved his studio to a sprawling loft space on Tel Giborim Street, opened four more stores in Tel Aviv, 13 stores throughout Israel and two in London.
“I was holding on to the Sheinkin location because it was my first. But I’ve been debating about closing it for a long time.
Sheinkin isn’t what it used to be, and it was no longer necessary for me to keep the store. That said, closing wasn’t easy at all,” he admitted.
Every one of Chen’s collections begins in the same way, with Chen’s version of origami. A lover of geometry, Chen takes squares of paper and folds them to reveal new shapes. These constructions are transferred to fabric and are eventually fashioned into clothing and accessories by a staff of skilled tailors. All this is part of a tireless quest for perfection.
“I’m always looking for the perfect line.
I can make a jacket one day that I feel is ‘it,’ the essence of what I want to create, and the next day I wake up thinking about the next piece I want to make. Inventing doesn’t get easier as you go. I am always trying to capture that magic,” he said.
“You know,” he whispered, “that feeling when you buy something new and it becomes part of you. I think clothes can be very good friends. Every time I’m stuck, I go back to my source, which is this play with geometric shapes. I have found, over time, that it’s a bottomless well. Somehow, when I work from this source, I always discover new things.”
Together with two designers in his fashion house, Chen spends about three months on each collection.
“We make between 180 and 200 pieces, knowing that only 100 will make it onto the racks. It’s like a singing competition.
Pieces get bumped not because they aren’t good but because something else is better,” he said.
A consistent thread in all Chen’s collections, whether structured, tailored, casual, dressy, tight or oversize, is highquality fabric.
“I’m crazy about fabric,” said Chen with a hint of wildness in his eyes.
“Last year I was in Italy at a fabric show, and I saw this amazing printed silk. I immediately tried to order it but was told that I couldn’t because it had already been cut into scarves.”
Unable to live without the beauty of that particular print, Chen ordered 500 scarves, disassembled them and reconstructed them into dresses.
With Fashion Week behind him and the summer collection photographed and in stores, Chen has begun work on his Winter 2015 collection. In addition, he is in the process of initiating a new line that will feature conceptual, avantgarde pieces.
“As a designer, I’d like to do something that is a bit less commercial and a bit sharper,” he said.
Chen said this plan was well under way but would not divulge where and when the new line will be available.
For more information about Ronen Chen, visit www.ronenchen.com.