In Ronit Elkabetz, curator and fashion historian Ya’ara Keydar found a kindred spirit. Although the connection between the two women occurred only after Elkabetz’s death, for Keydar, being exposed to the departed actress via her collection of clothing revealed a rare like-mindedness.
“As a fashion historian, my essence is to find the story in the clothes and the statement they make. I saw, in the way that she kept her clothes and in the care she took with them, that Ronit Elkabetz told a story with her clothes,” says Keydar.
Elkabetz is one of Israel’s most treasured actresses. Born to a Moroccan family in Beersheba, she started her career as a model and transitioned to acting and directing in the late 1980s. She is best known for her work on films such as Late Marriage
; Alila, Mabul
; The Band’s Visit
; and Gett
: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
. In her films, Elkabetz brought to light social and civil issues relevant to Israeli society.
An exhibition titled “Je t’aime, Ronit Elkabetz” is on display at the Design Museum Holon. At the entrance to the exhibition is a quote printed on the wall that reads, “I truly believe clothes have a spirit and a soul, so it’s important to me to care for them and then let them go when the time comes. After they have traveled a long way with me, I allow them to continue on, like a story or a film that needs to go on with its own life.”
Opening the exhibition with this quote made perfect sense to Keydar, who feels she was privy to a rare glimpse of Elkabetz through her wardrobe.
Keydar, 37, was born and raised in Ramot Hashavim. Today, she lives in New York with her husband and four-year-old son. She was contacted 18 months ago by Shlomi Elkabetz, Ronit’s brother and creative partner. Ronit had passed away two months earlier after a prolonged struggle with cancer.
“He was looking for a place to donate her clothes after her death or how to best preserve them. We met for over three hours, and he told me about the deep and important place that clothes had in her life and her creative practice. For Ronit, clothes were a way to express her femininity, her feminism, gender and Mizrahi background,” she says.
A few days after their meeting, Keydar received an official invitation from Maya Dvash, curator of the Design Museum Holon, to curate an exhibition dedicated to Elkabetz.
This is Keydar’s seventh exhibition, a personal feat, as well as a leap forward for the fashion field.
“For years, fashion has been put down by museums. My goal is to give voice to the broader context of clothes and their statement,” she explains.
The first step toward “Je t’aime, Ronit Elkabetz” was to carefully sort through her entire collection.
“I cataloged and then researched each and every piece, who, what, where from and so on... Ronit took great care of her clothes. Some of them were wrapped in silk with little notes on them like ‘Designed by Gideon Oberson for the Ofir Prize Ceremony.’ They were little capsules of her life: there were bridal gowns, costumes she had worn in her films, red carpet gowns and everyday clothing,” she says.
Of all of the pieces Keydar encountered, her favorite is a garment that was conceived and sewn by a 17-year-old Elkabetz.
“She dreamed of being a fashion designer,” says Keydar. “She studied design and sewing in high school and made this incredible dress for her final project. It is sewn amazingly well and was preserved all these years.”
For Keydar, this piece provided a vital piece of the Elkabetz puzzle: the seed of her passion for clothes.
One of the most striking things about Elkabetz’s personal style, in Keydar’s eyes, was her ability to take traditional garments and modernize them.
“She has an extensive collection of corsets, which are usually associated with female oppression. But in the way she wore them, they became a symbol of empowerment. She had a great way of combining high and low, historical and modern, opaque and sheer, traditional and new. She was very conscious with her clothing in that way,” says Keydar.
In curating an exhibition of garments, Keydar wanted to shed light on Elkabetz’s rich inner world. As such, presenting all the clothing on mannequins was out of the question.
“I brought in designer Victor Bellaish to sculpt the clothing into something that would elicit movement,” she says.
One example is Elkabetz’s famous yellow gown, designed by Alber Elbaz and worn to the opening of Gindi Fashion Week 2015. The dress, which was created to emulate the Tel Aviv sun, is presented fanned out on black velvet, surrounded by red satin roses.
“Victor put life back into the dress in the way that he sculpted it,” Keydar smiles.
In laying out the space of the exhibition, Keydar turned to members of the Elkabetz family.
“I was very lucky that they put so much trust in me and the museum and that they wanted to take part,” says Keydar.
In the main room of the exhibition, a large dock slices the space in half. At the edge of the raised walkway, one can look down upon a projection of pink-hued waves. This element was designed by Elkabetz’s husband, Avner Yashar. In another corner, a bottle of her favorite perfume, Shalimar, sits atop a vanity, taken from Elkabetz’s Paris home.
“At the age of 46, Ronit gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. She named the girl Shalimar after that perfume,” Keydar adds.
‘Je t’aime, Ronit Elkabetz’ is on display until the end of April at the Design Museum Holon. For more information, visit www.dmh.org.il.
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