It might not be quite as edgy as Alexander McQueen's outlandish designs or as expensive as Jean Paul Gaultier, but Morin Woolf's meticulously crafted handmade work certainly comes about as close as one can get to the strict definition of haute couture.
And that, in the Land of Israel, is saying a lot.
Although the term haute couture originally sprang from the British-born couturier Charles Frederick Worth (the man credited with being the first designer to offer his prospective customers luxurious fabrics with flattering fits and the first to put a label in his designs), today it applies to both fashion houses and designs. Often loosely used to describe any custom-fit, high-end clothing, it is properly applied only to the select few that meet rigorous French standards.
There is even a patent on the term explicitly stating that before any fashion house can use "haute couture" in its advertising (or anywhere else for that matter) it must first meet the following strict conditions:
• Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
• Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least 15 people full-time.
• Each season (twice a year), present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least 35 runs/exits with outfits for both daytime and evening wear.
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So while Woolf uses only the finest quality fabrics imported from France and Spain and spends countless hours crafting each design, it's not technically accurate - at least according to the French - to define her clothing as haute couture. Yet.
This November, two years after opening her flagship store on Rehov Ben-Yehuda in central Tel Aviv, she has plans for expansion that may help her meet more criteria in the near future.
"I'm going to New York to meet with high-end department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue to discuss selling my work abroad," she says. "My dream is to one day design for the red carpet."
Tall and thin, with jet black hair and startlingly blue eyes, she looks like a perfect model for her own work, which includes sizes 0 to 3 and larger sizes as well. As she pulls each piece off the rack to discuss the thought behind the combination of fabric, cut and adornments, her face lights up with excitement.
It's hard to believe that her dreams of becoming not just a fashion designer, but one who specializes in haute couture, are relatively recent.
Although she always had a penchant for art, she did not imagine herself going into clothing design as a teenager. The daughter of a painter and a culture aficionado who runs Habama.co.il, she grew up with a great appreciation for art and attended a special school for the arts in Ramat Hasharon.
In high school she delved into sculpture, and after her army service she decided to move to Italy and learn Italian.
"I fell in love with opera when I was very young, so I always wanted to learn Italian," she says.
Upon arrival, however, she got interested in fashion design and decided to pursue a degree.
After completing her studies in two different fashion design programs in Italy, one that focused on the artistic and one that specialized in the technical work, Woolf returned to Israel with a dream, much knowledge and little direction.
"For the first year I was in la-la land," she admits. "It took time for me to gain confidence that I can succeed."
One great booster was being chosen as one of the 10 finalists in the popular 2007 Israeli cable reality series that chose female professionals with the most promising futures.
Soon afterwards, she found a place to open a store and started working on her first collection. Since then, she has dressed a long train of celebrities for special events, including singer Rita and actresses Ronit Elkabetz, Tali Sharon and Ania Bukstein.
Nevertheless, although this fall/winter collection includes a wide range of dresses, skirts, shirts, jackets and even bridal wear, with gorgeous lines and sumptuous materials, Woolf is realistic about the challenges.
"There are very few designers in Israel who have the patience and financial motivation to create haute couture," she explains.
A limited number of clients can appreciate the fine handiwork behind silk organza embroidered with delicate leather threads, or triple-layered boleros and taffeta gowns embedded with Swarovski crystals. And even fewer can actually afford them.
Prices for evening gowns range from NIS 900 to NIS 8,000, while bridal gowns start at NIS 8,500 and reach NIS 20,000.
"You have to be a little bit crazy to do haute couture," she says enthusiastically with a big smile, noting that the fine craft of twisting material into perfectly round beads or heating leather until it reaches the perfect pliable temperature border on obsessions for her. She thinks of each design, in fact, as a work of art.
"I am inspired by architecture, sculpture, art, fabric and my vision of the ideal woman, a woman with a strong character," she says. "The most important thing is to have a passion for this. If you're passionate about it, it's a great profession."Woolf's store is located at Rehov Ben-Yehuda 187, Tel Aviv.
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