When you have a good mother the possibilities are endless. This rings true for Israeli-born high-end men’s fashion designer Moshe Ben-Ari, who is the founder and creative director of the luxury brand called Ari.
Ben-Ari’s mother was born in Syria, moved to Israel and raised her family in Haifa, where she worked as a custom tailor.
Ben-Ari recalls his mother tailoring his whole family’s wardrobe by hand. At the time, she mended her children’s clothes out of a financial need. Today, Ben-Ari owns three stores full of all his own designs in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, and dresses top celebrities from around the world. His hand-stitched Italian suits and cashmere sweaters sell for thousands of dollars, yet this international businessman still has one big challenge: getting the approval of his 81-year-old mom.
“My mother is my biggest critic. She can walk into my shop, look at the sleeve of a shirt and notice if it is not stitched properly. She’ll look at it and point it out and say ‘Oh, it needs to be twisted a little,’” Ben-Ari said. “When I come home for the holidays and I wear something, she says ‘Oh, this is nice,’ or ‘It’s too big or too small.’ She is the strongest person I’ve ever met in my life. She’s my inspiration.”
Ben-Ari is the only game in town when it comes to making custom cashmere sweaters. Aside from this, what makes his clothes so special – in addition to the fine quality of the Italian materials – is the fit. The designer focuses on working with the shape of the male body, but the idea came to him out of pure necessity. He says he’s always had trouble finding clothes that fit his masculine shape.
“I’m the guy who can’t find stuff on the shelves. If you’ve got broad shoulders and long arms, you look like a hanger. Clothes are supposed to fit you, not hang on you,” Ben-Ari explained. “Let’s say you want to buy a cashmere sweater and you’re an athletic, fit guy – you’ll have trouble.
You’ll buy something that will be bulging on you. It doesn’t compliment you. The stuff we make has a fit. It’s sexy. That’s the difference. We are geared to guys who stay in shape, so they can enjoy a piece of luxury.”
So how did the Israeli guy get to New York? It was an accident. Ben-Ari traveled to visit friends there after the army at age 22 and never returned. He quickly took on the city, entering the fashion world immediately, working at a shop and then opening his own. He introduced his own pieces to the store season by season with a new category each time – whether it was outerwear, footwear, athletic-wear or cashmere. One day, the whole place was full of his own designs. He often makes trips to work with his favorite colleagues in Italy, sometimes arriving late and working all through the night.
“You need to find the right partner. If you have a certain vision, if you have a certain standard of quality – which I’ve always been very picky about my products – they have to be the top quality. It’s not that difficult, you just have to go to the source, the ones who are notorious for being the best,” Ben-Ari said.
“I WORK with small factories. It’s not one million employees. They are friends. They are like family to me, relationships that have been built over the years. They will come pick me up and go to my hotel, and then we will start working at 6 p.m., get food and whiskey and work till 3 a.m., and by then we’ve made 10 jackets. This is how we work. We are not corporate by any means.”
Typically, the process begins with a sit-down in which Ben-Ari comes up with a general theme. Then he draws up the design and makes a prototype that will be shipped to New York, where he makes further changes. Finally, Ben-Ari returns to Italy at a later stage to choose the fabrics. Then, voila! The clothes are produced, often working with his wife, Rita, who is also a fashion designer.
Shoppers from anywhere in the world can now access his store online, but it’s really the service that his customers have come to expect and love.
“It’s a trade that doesn’t exist anymore. My stylists know the clients by name, which cocktail they like, which type of whiskey they like. They know how to measure properly so customers can wear and enjoy their pieces for a very long time,” Ben-Ari said.
Not just anyone walks through the doors of Ari. Oftentimes celebrities do. Ben-Ari has dressed Cold Play, Seal, Tom Cruise, Ellen DeGeneres, Rande Gerber, Larry King, Jeremy Piven and Sam Heughan. Many celebrities come into his shop as they are strolling by in SoHo.
“They love it. Seal told me that my clothes are made for men, not for boys. That was my biggest compliment. When you go see the Depeche Mode and you get backstage and the band is wearing your stuff, I mean, what could be a bigger reward than that? They can wear anyone they want.
“Saint Laurent, Gucci, Prada. But they choose to wear my stuff on stage. You can dress people for red carpets in a suit, and to me that’s just easy stuff. It’s like going to a restaurant. But sportswear, that’s where the cool factor comes into play.”
Ben-Ari offered some advice for the upcoming designer: “Stick to what you believe in. Don’t try to follow everyone’s trend, because you’ll get lost. It won’t be you anymore. Stick to what you do best and do the best you can.”
While this fashion visionary has opened a boutique in Los Angeles and is looking to expand his brand to Las Vegas, Israel is not on the table right now.
“I’m not there yet, not at the moment. I’ll never say never, but not at the moment.”
Ben-Ari says his brand is picking up steam outside of the US. Though the designer has been trying to avoid operating too many stores, he says it’s tough to ignore strong leaders in the fashion industry when they approach him with partnership offers to expand the brand. And while he’s lived his adult life in New York, like a true Israeli, Ben-Ari says he’s just going to continue opening shops and strengthening his brand all on his own.
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