yosef fash 88.
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At the recent biannual Designers Market in Tel Aviv, throngs of women swarmed around one man, not for his good looks or charming personality - though he boasts both - but rather for his outrageous fashion sense. Pushing and shoving, women of all ages grabbed at the alluring dresses, revealing tops and tight-fitting pants that have clothed the likes of models and actresses Mali Levi, Yael Goldman and Hila Nachshon.
In fact, it was here at the market where the ragingly popular designer had his first taste of success in 2000, when he sold out his entire debut collection, all of which had been made at home.
Born Yosef Perez, he now goes by just Yosef, as the labels on his fast-selling attire read, and he no longer operates out of a tiny apartment but out of two high-class studios in Tel Aviv, where he designs everything himself with his staff of workers.
Sitting at a small caf a block away from his modern shop on Rehov Dizengoff (and two tables away from designer Na'ama Bezalel), Yosef found time in his busy schedule of fittings, meetings and designing to give us a peek into his glamorous life.
Growing up in Kiryat Shmona with nine brothers and sisters, Yosef, now 33, had no idea that he wanted to be a fashion designer. He grew up dancing, and spent six months in New York and a year in Miami perfecting his moves. But upon his return to Israel, he realized it was time to move on to something else, and a close friend suggested fashion.
"I guess she thought it would suit my personality," says the animated and energetic designer, dressed in jeans and a printed T-shirt. Thinking the trade would be easy to learn, Yosef registered for a technical design course, but bored to death, he was eventually kicked out for being "a hutzpan," he says.
But the determined dilettante didn't give up. He started studying design at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Tel Aviv and, at the same time, began to make clothes at home. His brave female roommate wore his creations around town, and gradually her friends began requesting similar styles from the amateur artist. Pretty soon, his living room had turned into a store.
Then he discovered the Designers Market and jumped at the chance to showcase his wares to the larger public. He requested an entire stand of his own, despite being an as yet unknown label, and completely emptied out his bank account to pay for the costs.
"The organizers told me I wouldn't sell a thing," he remembers, "but on the very first day, I sold every piece of clothing I had. It was a very nice surprise."
That year, still a student, he opened his first store. Two years later, he won the Israeli Oscar for best young designer, and a year after that, he won for best designer. To date, he has participated in 14 Designers Markets and just opened his second shop in Tel Aviv on Rehov Sheinkin.
His style is complicated, to say the least, often requiring someone to explain how to wear the item, but is at the height of creativity and art nonetheless. Half his line is casual, and the other half is mostly evening wear - dresses of silk and crinkled chiffon inspired by the 1920s and '30s but modernized. His main influence, he says, is walking by well-dressed people on the street, but he says he is also inspired by the close-fitting Greek style, as evident in his seductive collection.
"I like when clothing fits the body well," he says, illustrating the curvaceous figure of a woman with his hands. Indeed, the secret to his success is his injection of what he calls "a very feminine aroma" into the Israeli fashion world, manifested by the materials and colors he chooses. "But it's also a matter of the right timing, the right place and, of course, talent and charisma."
THOUGH MANY celebrities come to Yosef to fill their closets, his line, he insists, is geared for any woman 20-45 who is interested in art and theater. And in fact, the Kiryat Shmona native had a store in his hometown - far, far away from the big city life of Tel Aviv - until he closed it last summer during the war with Hizbullah.
He might reopen the shop, which carried his more casual line, but in the meantime he confesses that the country's political and military conflicts only bolster his spirit.
"I love wars," Yosef says. "Maybe it's because I grew up in Kiryat Shmona with all the Katyushas, but wars really affect me and give me an adrenaline rush. I work well under pressure. It makes me more creative."
Living here also inspires his creativity because of the melting pot of people. "It's what makes this country so beautiful," he adds.
While the homogenization that is Israeli style often receives a bad rap, Yosef contends that it has evolved in recent months and become more sophisticated. Of course, he says, "there are still plenty of disasters," but today more Israelis are following personal style rather than copying popular trends, and there's a lot more awareness of what looks good. And just in case they don't know what looks good, he says "every woman should have a dress by Yosef and a lover in her closet."
These days, Yosef is concentrating on his new shop on Sheinkin, with plans to open a couple of stores with more casual collections in other areas of the country. He has no plans, however, to open a store in Jerusalem, he says, "because it's the holy city - I go there to pray, not to shop."
Yosef's clothes are also available in the Atila showroom in New York City, and he says he fantasizes about one day opening shops in London and Paris, and eventually expanding his business to interior decorating.
"I love designing. I love waking up every day to something that I'm doing for myself," he says. "Every day there's a different feeling, a different emotion, and there's nothing more exciting for me than seeing the finished product."
His spring/summer line is set to be released by the end of this month and will include casual, evening and bridal collections, as well as a few surprises, he says mischievously. Any hints? "No hints... it's a surprise!"
Yosef can be found at 213 Rehov Dizengoff and 46 Rehov Sheinkin in Tel Aviv.
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