A big to-do

Stylists, models rub elbows at Israel's 1st-ever hairdressing championship.

Hair is one of those things. You've either got itor you haven't. And if you have, then there's a whole Pandora's box ofwhats, ifs, hows, dos and don'ts that must be considered between thatmoment you get out of bed in the morning and take leave of your placeof residence - exiting your safe space to the realm of random criticaljudgment that is the public sphere.

Thingis though, it doesn't have to be random - for you or your hairdresser.And that's where the OMC Israel Cup 2009 comes in. For the first time,Israel held a championship to choose a winner to send to the OMC ParisCup Open, scheduled for October 18 and 19.

But let's take a step backward.

The Organisation Mondiale Coiffure is "the world's biggestbeauty organization, with over 60 member countries and 500,000 salonowners worldwide," according to its Web site (omchairworld.com). Membercountries include China, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, the USand, of course, Canada. The countries are divided up among differentregional zones. Israel, which only joined last year, is in the WesternEurope zone, as some sort of Zionist dream.

And, to be clear, it is Zionism that was thepropelling factor for Israel to seek membership. At the pressconference (that took place a week prior to the Israel Cup), blue andwhite was a constant reference by the event's organizers. "Our visionis to promote Israel," offered one participant. Though they were alsovery careful to make a distinction between politics and art, which, itwas frequently asserted, "do not go together." It seems that this mighthave stemmed from the concern that, on the international level, Israelichampions will come in direct competition with champions from enemystates, a recurring point of conflict for the locals.

At the time this piece is being written, the OMC Israel Website cannot be accessed - despite attempts on multiple Web browsers.Each time the warning that the site could harm your computer isdisplayed, indicating that someone, somewhere, decided that an Israelipursuit of hair, makeup and nail championships is a bit too normal fora country still occupying another people. Or, it's just some punk kidhaving a good time.

Either way, it should be noted that almost everytime the words "blue," white" or "Israel" were said, it was wrapped ina Russian accent. In fact, on the OMC's main Web site, it list thecontact languages for Israel as English and Russian. While no one wouldcomment directly on the disproportionate representation of Russianparticipation, I was told by one Israel Cup organizer that this is justbig in the East.

Well, now it's big in Israel.

ARRIVING AT Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama, it was clear that this wasgoing to be an event best categorized as "other." Swarms of people hadarrived for the days event, free and open to the public with the minorhassle of having to register. Entrance was dependent upon presentingyour printed-on-the-spot name tag. Aside from that little environmentalfaux pas, walking into the exhibition room was like taking a step intothe most toxic salon space you could ever imagine.

Coughing and taking quick breaths, I tried to expunge thehorrible memories of youth that involved my mom taking me with her tohave her hair done. But if one can get used to the Tel Aviv air - hot,sticky and carcinogenic - outside, then, well, inside could almost beplayed off as a a slight improvement: it wasn't as hot.

Even before entering the main hall - with its runway, myriadprep tables and oodles of oglers (especially surrounding the four bodyart models), there was a veritable madhouse of cosmetics, hairproducts, nail accoutrements of previously unimaginable varieties andthose types who look like they go to a bar only if it has FTV on aprojection screen. We (my photographer and I) were now playing bumperbodies in Little Odessa.

This market had representatives of so many different suppliersfor commercial and personal use, including Reisz Professional, BOAZ,Minx Nails, Nano Keratin (an anti-aging hair product) and other gems,such as OPI.

OPI is the largest producer of nail polishes, based in the US.Its product, says Ilana Casif, an OPI instructor, is made withoutcarcinogens and with an emphasis placed on "green" ingredients. It wasalso the only vendor present with a bar. That's because the "nail bar"it had set up, called as such due to the high table and chairs thatpeople sit at to have their nails done resembles a bar. But, in Israel,says Casif, "a bar is a bar." So alcohol must be served. I'm convinced.

But the intrigue of the main hall is too much to ignore. It'swhere the actual action of the day's festivities is going down. So, weenter to take in the scene. And what a scene it is. "It's likebackstage at a cracked-out fashion show," says the photographer. I'minclined to agree.

WE ENCOUNTER wedding dresses filled with brides that get yourjuices flowing, but that you might think twice about taking home tomother. One female has her body painted with scales, in green andblack, with her hair done in alternating stripes of those same colors.Then there is the fantasy competition, which entails models decked outin various Vogue-type fashion - all-inclusive, from dress tomakeup to nails to hair. But mixed in are two models who stand out forrather obvious reasons. One is "Eve" - barefoot and holding an applewith tree branches and flowers adorning her costume. And an Israelisports girl - her body painted with the logos of various local teamsfrom Maccabi Haifa to Maccabi Ashdod.

Announcements come, once again, in Russian-accented Hebrew,calling out Russian names and the cities where they're from. To add tothe whole atmosphere of unexpected oddities, the musical interlude,during the afternoon runway shows, is provided by Jamie Cullum, pipedin over the sound system.

Then we come to the evening's award ceremony. After all. thisis what the whole day has been about. Israelis of various origins havecongregated here to compete for the coveted Israel Cup to represent thecountry in Paris later this year. This is about the models as much asit is about the designers.

Shelly Greenberg, 17, from Rishon Lezion, is amodel representing the work of Gabi Weinstein, himself representingCarin Gal hair and cosmetics. This is Greenberg's first time in the bigleagues and she is excited. Decidedly attractive, Weinstein's input hasadded a few years on the high-schooler, who admits that the competitionbrings out the glamour in its participants.

Butit is the designer who takes center stage. In this case Weinstein, whohas a long career behind him, is looking to advance on a professional,world-class level.

From the photo gallery available on the OMC's main Web site,there is a huge gap to be traversed. The sheer representation ofcreativity and fantasy from abroad that is presented outshines thebush-league presentations of the local crews. But "this puts us on themap," Weinstein asserts. "This opens the doors to a new generation."And between Greenberg's glowing appearance and the sheer multitude oflocal participants, he is most likely correct.

Besides, apropos the earlier assertions that there is noconnection between politics and art, he promotes the notion that "maybethis will help to advance the relationship [between Jews and Arabs]."

AND THEN the evening's gala event goes down.

The room starts off, packed with spectators and participants,eager to advance to the international level. A woman of Russianbackground hosts. She is a somewhat frightening Eastern-lookingChristina Ricci. Between announcing the winners, she introduces theevening's entertainment. First comes a Russian singer, dressed like aslutty belly dancer. Then comes a Russian opera singer, decked out inan internally lit costume, from skirt to bra to outlandish headpiece.

Asthe night wears on, the crowd thins and it is clear that thoseremaining are waiting/hoping to receive the OMC Israel Cup medallionsthat will ensure their advancement to the international championship inParis. And, as Arthur Yakubov, who took first place in the StreetFashion competition says, "Thank God, [OMC] arrived in Israel."

To him, it is very important to carry the Israeli flag toParis. But in the short-term, his victory has already had a positiveinfluence on his Ashdod-based salon. So, Paris or not, OMC Israel hasalready made waves. Where it is to go from here, only time can tell.