Donna Karan sets her designs on Israel

The DKNY founder visits Tel Aviv to lecture Shenkar's fashion students and scout out their work.

donna karan shenkar 88 2 (photo credit: Shenkar College of Engineering and Design)
donna karan shenkar 88 2
(photo credit: Shenkar College of Engineering and Design)
Punchy designs and funky fabrics have catapulted Israel's Shenkar College of Engineering and Design into the realm of the most elite international fashion schools. So it's no wonder that world-renowned fashion designer Donna Karan snapped up a project from every student in the school's textile design department to take back with her to New York. The head of the DKNY label was visiting the cutting edge Tel Aviv-based school this month to accept an Honorary Fellow award, teach a Master Class, set up a scholarship through the school's American Committee, and open her exhibit, "Journey of a Woman," showcasing her work and design philosophy. "Every project from our exhibit was taken - around 10 or so," department head Tali Lachover told ISRAEL21c. "[Karan] asked me to pack them up for her private plane so she could look at them on Friday. She even asked one of our students, Shelly Porot, to come back to work for her this summer." It wouldn't be the first time the designer plucked one of Shenkar's finest. On a previous visit Karan asked fashion student Avshalom Gur to intern at her New York office. Gur went on to make a name for himself as a top designer in London for his own label, Avsh Alom Gur. He won the British Fashion Council's New Generation Award in 2005 and his pieces have appeared at London Fashion Week. With other famous graduates, like retro-chic Israeli designer Naama Bezalel and Lanvin haute couture creative director Alber Elbaz, Shenkar has produced an array of internationally acclaimed graduates in textiles, graphics, interior, and industrial design since it was founded in 1970. The fact that Karan chose to pay close attention to textile students is no surprise to Lachover, who understands the famous designer's penchant for fabric before fashion. "Textiles are developing fast and becoming important. Donna Karan started from fabric. She understands this," she said. Shenkar's textile department teaches its students different technologies regarding the printing, weaving and knitting of various fabrics, as well as product development. And like Karan, it stresses the material over the design. Dressed impeccably in an army-inspired green and black camouflage wrap draped over a black halter-top and leggings, Karan promoted the significance of fabric at the opening of the exhibit at Shenkar. "The collection started with a black bodysuit and a piece of wrap," Karan said. "The fabrics talk to me, I come from a fabrication point of view - not design." While the Shenkar textile department may have taken a back seat over the years to its more celebrated fashion design department, the textile students still stand proud at the school. "The lecturers here support the competition because it's good in the long run," says fourth year interior design student Eran Ezra. "It enhances the quality here. The ambiance is great. Each year, I feel like someone who just jumped into cold water and learned how to swim." The designs of these talented students were the focus of a Master Class that morning taught by Karan. "I told them that fashion is not about clothes, it's about the unification of fashion and the design of the culture," said Karan. "Culture is the next big thing in fashion. I am inspired by cultural dress. I would take the girl from Ethiopia and put her back in Ethiopia to work with the culture there and design for them." Aside from fabric and culture, Karan told ISRAEL21c that she counts bathing suits, the Dead Sea, children, and history, as inspirations for her in Israel. "I haven't had the chance to get to know Israeli fashion," she said. "I'm not one of those women who walk down the street and looks at other women's clothes. I look at the limestone in Jerusalem. That's my inspiration." But Karan was equally inspired by the eager students and young designers. On the way out of a press conference, she spoke with textile design student Moshe Roas on his interpretations of fabric. "She wanted to see my portfolio. It was very professional," he said. The 25-year old says he owes his finesse and professionalism to Shenkar. "It's fun to learn here. Shenkar is a known school. Designers from here go to work for Galliano [head designer of fashion label Dior]. I think we are ahead in fashion. It's very intense." As Karan's day at Shenkar progressed, she appeared to become more and more intrigued by Israeli students like Roas. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate these young designers," she said. "There's too much strife in the world. If we become united in our creativity, not only in what we wear, but what we do, we will change the world. It's truly an honor to be around such inspiration."