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Good-bye Paris, Milan and London. And who needs New York when Tel Aviv has its own hip fashion scene, brought into full spectrum light at the biannual Fashion Market?
For over a decade, the two-day event at the end of the winter and summer seasons draws tens of thousands of women and men - celebrities and commoners alike - looking to upgrade their wardrobe. They also come to see and be seen mingling among the 120 different Israeli designers - some on the way up like Ido Recanati, and others well established and internationally successful such as Sigal Dekel.
On the first day of this year's winter sale on February 1, gaggles of satisfied women were laughing like schoolgirls both inside the hall and outside on the sidewalks, swinging large shopping bags as though they were on Park Avenue. Due to the sheer number of people, getting those bags filled with fashion accessories such as dresses, T-shirts, pants, boots and belts required a great deal of elbowing and perseverance.
The Fashion Market was held at the exhibition grounds in north Tel Aviv and cost a few shekels for entry. Designers trucked in racks and stacks of clothing, DJs pumped music into the crowd and bartenders served up cocktails and caffeine to designers on the edge of inebriation and/or exhaustion (some had been preparing months in advance).
The market is like a coming-out party for new designers from schools such as the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, agrees Ida Cecula, 38, the brain behind the concept. She points to Dekel as a poster girl for the way the market can transform a dreamer into a bona fide designer. "Sigal started with me when she was young. She eventually made it internationally, but has come back again to the Fashion Market," says Cecula, explaining that even established designers continue to use the event as a showcase for new creations.
Also, she adds, the event helps designers clear out older stock and gives them some earning power to produce the "next mountain of clothes."
Another designer who got a big break through the Fashion Market is the hugely popular Yosef Perez of the 'Yosef' label. Around midnight, after the dust had settled from the hoards of women visiting his stall, Perez spoke to The Jerusalem Post about 'making it' in the fashion world. On his first night at the market six years ago, he came with knees shaking wondering how people would receive his first collection. To his shock, "I think I finished selling everything on the first day, thanks to God," he blushes.
Demand for his clothes has since skyrocketed, and now he owns a shop on Rehov Dizengoff. "I think I understand the Israeli woman and how to choose the right fabric for her," explains Perez. "Also, Israeli women like to see what is happening around the world, but when it boils down to it, they have their own opinions on fashion. Here in Israel we have much more sophistication in clothing over the past seven years, and Israeli women are adopting and appreciating that."
As for the next line of young designers likely to succeed, Perez is rooting for Ayelet Shaked, a friend who worked with him in his earlier days. Two stalls over, Shaked, fatigued from the day of work, relates, "I started with bags, Yosef designed the clothes, then I took a break."
After the break, she was imbued with a new passion for making clothes. Now in her third season, Shaked has her own studio and sells clothes (like many other young designers) at popular fashion stores such as Razili, Alma and Bunker.
Women far outnumbered the men that night - the odd guy could be seen hanging out in the wing waiting for his girlfriend or wife. But some men apparently had ventured to the market by their own free will, and visited the handful of clothing stalls, such as Plazma and David Sassoon, designed expressly for men.
Isaac Dror, fashion designer for Plazma, agrees that men tend to be more conservative in fashion than women because "men don't really know how to define themselves. It's hard for them not to go in just jeans and a T-shirt. They always have to ask their girlfriends for advice. We use crazy and unusual cuts and images, and are the opposite of Golf and other mainstream stores in Israel."
The overall style of most of the clothing at the Fashion Market hovered around comfortable daywear in earthy and muted tones made from cotton and/or Lycra. One of the better designers in this genre was Ayala Meromi of the Gusta label, who named her line of clothes after her Polish grandmother. ("It means 'desire' in Spanish," she explains).
'[My grandmother] was in charge of the clothing warehouse in the kibbutz where she lived, and is thus genetically responsible for my love of all things chic,' wrote Meromi on her MySpace Web site. Meromi's shop on the corner of Dizengoff and Jabotinsky streets in Tel Aviv has just opened, but she has been in the business for about three years. During that time, like most other young designers, she was busy selling her clothes in other people's shops. "The clothes we make are suitable for people [and Mediterranean body types] in Israel - the fabric, the cuts. It suits the typical Israeli day," she says.
The idea for bringing Israeli designers under one roof started about 12 years ago, when Cecula was running the legendary south Tel Aviv nightclub Lemon. "I had this club and was working with music and the club scene, and saw the needs of my girlfriends. I started to help about a dozen of them with selling events in a parking lot. Eventually we said, why not put it together with music, a bar and a complete environment to make it an occasion?"
The first Fashion Market drew about 1,000 people. This year there were 27,000. Why has the event become so successful? "When you have 120 designers in one spot, you don't have to go to the mall to find what you are looking for - and it is an important meeting for the designers where they talk among themselves to see what's new," says Cecula. "The prices are often less expensive than in a store, and you can sometimes find things no longer available in the shops."
Working with the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, Cecula was responsible for last years' groovy Pish Pish Lila, the nighttime opening of Jaffa's flea market. This year, she is staging events at Villa Melchett on Lake Kinneret. Although the Lemon days are far behind her (she sold the club seven years ago and it closed down five years later), she will continue working with fashion and other events, doing what she knows best. "I am not a fashion designer but a designer of culture," she concludes.