When it comes to religion, gender is almost always a defining aspect in personal practice. That is to say, the ways in which we observe religion are determined by our gender. In Judaism, there are very clear lines separating the duties of women and men. These boundaries set out the way each side dresses, prays, eats, works and connects with family. It is exactly this chasm in daily ritual that has fueled the struggle of the Women of the Wall, an internationally recognized organization that is fighting for women to be granted legal permission to don prayer shawls and read from the Torah at the Western Wall.
Since the beginning of their journey more than 25 years ago, the adamant Women of the Wall have been at the heart of much controversy and debate. More recently, they have also inspired a clothing line. When tasked with creating a winter collection drawn from Judaism, Israeli designers Karin Leikovich and Sharon Daube immediately scheduled a meeting with the Women. The collection comes as a second edition in the upscale Israeli fashion house Comme Il Faut’s religious initiative. Last summer, Comme Il Faut filled its stores with garments inspired by Islam.
“When we began,” said Daube in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, “we took a long look at the last collection. We wanted to get into context in order to continue what the Islam collection had started. We wanted to match the collection with the needs of the label.”
The two designers seemed right at home in Comme Il Faut’s sprawling south Tel Aviv offices. Walking through the space, they exchanged warm hellos with fellow employees before entering their private designing room. Once seated amidst racks of their new line, which was about to be shipped out to stores, Daube and Leikovich expressed the excitement they felt when faced with the challenge of this collection.
Last year, when Comme Il Faut’s head designer, Ira Goldman, announced that she was heading for maternity leave, the label canvassed the country for designers that could continue Goldman’s aesthetic thread, while adding a new touch of their own. Leikovich and Daube met during their recruitment and immediately fell into step with each other. The fall/ winter collection marks their first joint venture.
Comme Il Faut scouted Leikovich, 28, straight out of university. Daube, 33, cut her teeth as the co-founder of the Tel Aviv evening label Lichtenstadt before joining forces with the fashion house. For both women, an opportunity to design for such an established brand felt like a big break.
“During the months that we worked on this collection, we were in constant dialogue with the management of Comme Il Faut.
They afforded us a lot of freedom to create the way we wanted to,” said Leikovich. Incidentally, the same year that the Women of the Wall began their journey, Comme Il Faut began theirs.
On the inspiration board in Leikovich and Daube’s office hang several pictures of the Women of the Wall, next to images of famous religious figures. The collection is called There Is None Other Besides Her, which is the Women of the Wall’s slogan. As part of the new collection, Comme Il Faut has produced a T-shirt featuring these words.
“The Women of the Wall’s struggle is a very basic struggle. When we met with them, we saw something very authentic and incredibly moving. Even though we are both secular, we could easily connect with what they are doing. And I don’t see what’s so political about what the women are doing. The women are bringing the question of the divide between male and female to the surface,” explained Leikovich.
Their first move when translating their inspiration into fashion was to identify the pinnacle of religious attire.
“We started with the white shirt,” said Daube. “It was a blank slate. Then we looked at the tallit, or prayer shawl.
We combined the two garments and looked at their movement. The combination of the tailored, geometric shirt with the softness of the shawl was very intriguing.”
“Comme Il Faut’s roots are in tailored pieces,” continued Leikovich. “Our collection definitely mirrors that. Perhaps because we knew we were going to make tailored pieces [for women], we ended up focusing mainly on the traditional clothing of the hassidic man. We created a number of tailored pieces that play with symmetry and asymmetry. We looked at the different types of clothes worn for different occasions, such as the stripes or shiny materials worn on Shabbat or holidays, as well as the men’s pajamas.”
“I think that if we were to continue this collection, we would eventually incorporate traditional women’s clothing as well,” added Daube.
From the white shirt they fashioned several shirts, which they named after biblical characters such as Rachel, Abraham, Leah and Isaac. To the stark white they added metallic fabrics, rich woven pieces created in collaboration with budding label Nulah and deep charcoal pinstripes.
“Hassidic men wear many layers. We brought that element into our designs. We looked at what was underneath what, what peeks out from what. We created openings in unusual places and slits,” said Leikovich.
While Judaism is determined to keep the two sexes separate, Leikovich and Daube found a platform on which to bring them together. The result is an intriguing blend of masculine and feminine that has made for an edgy and truly wearable collection.
For more information about Comme Il Faut, visit www.commeil-faut.com