Hot fashion fix

This summer's Designers' Shouk blended style with a social conscience.

tel aviv fash 88 298 (photo credit: Erica Danielle Chernofsky)
tel aviv fash 88 298
(photo credit: Erica Danielle Chernofsky)
It was paradise. The racks and racks of designer clothes seemed to continue endlessly, and atop almost every one was a sign: 50 percent off. No, it wasn't just an addicted shopper's dream, this past weekend was the summer Designers' Shouk at Tel Aviv's Exhibition Center. But rather than sweaty, open-air stalls and cheap fabrics, this shouk took place in a massive, air-conditioned terminal and showcased the summer styles of Israel's hottest and most popular fashion designers. And yes, everything was 30-70% off. Like a regular shouk, lots of pushing was involved. But to accommodate the crazed women of all ages and sizes (and their escorts), popular music filled the air, food stands sold everything from hot dogs to re-energizing ice coffees and for those whose feet needed a break, giant, comfy pillows littered the floor. "It's amazing, all the designers I love are in one room and everything is affordable," said Shiri, 26, while trying on a dress by designer Ronit Tako. Twirling around in front of the mirror, she showed me the price tag: NIS 249, reduced from NIS 599. "It's just begging to be bought," she said. On the other side of the terminal, dozens of girls were fighting their way through the racks of clothing by popular designer Yossef, who began selling his styles at the shouk six years ago, before he even opened a store of his own. Though many only know Yossef as a designer of expensive evening wear, the shouk provides him with an outlet to expose his more casual, streetwear line to a public that wouldn't normally frequent his store. "I love everything about the market," said Yossef, "but what I love most is the interaction with the customers and the way they attack my stand as if I was giving away gold coins." The image is an accurate one. Women literally fought their way through the racks of his clothes, snatching, grabbing and shoving as though their lives depended on the perfect pair of pants. One woman, there with her teenage daughter, shelled out cash as she and her daughter purchased a dress, a skirt and a shirt by Yossef. "I love seeing all the innovative and creative styles of the different designers," said the 45-year-old mother. "Some of the clothes, however, are poorly made, and just aren't worth spending the money on. Except for Yossef, of course. His stuff alone made coming worthwhile." This year, 120 fashion designers participated in the Designers' Shouk, not to mention the accessory, jewelry, bag and shoe designers who also participated, as well as Madina Milano make-up and a soap and aromatherapy store. And while the shouk is mostly geared for women, men's and even children's clothing designers were not absent, all part of the concept of making the fashion experience "whole," said one of the organizers. Even celebrities came to shop. But the shouk wasn't always such an extravaganza. When it was started in 1995 by Eida Chichola, then the owner of the nightclub Lemon, it consisted of only 17 designers selling their clothes in a parking lot in Tel Aviv. Chichola added DJs, refreshments and decorations with the hope of creating a fusion of fashion and nightlife. For the next few years, the shouk changed locations numerous times - once operating out of a drive-in movie theater in Tel Aviv while a pornographic film played on the big screen, and another time from the underground parking lot of the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, while bats flew overhead and rats scuttled over the floor. Thankfully, the shouk has come a long way since then. Seven years ago, architect Yam Tirran joined Chichola with the idea of massively expanding the event, and the shouk's popularity has increased exponentially every year. A committee made up of teachers from Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and Ascola Academy of Art and Design as well as other fashion knowledgeables chooses the designers after carefully inspecting their selections. This year, out of 36 new designers who applied, only seven were accepted. Though many of the designers at the shouk - like Ronen Chen and Sigal Dekel - are well-known and have stores of their own, there were also plenty of young designers without the fame, for whom the venue is an opportunity to gain recognition and customers. THIS YEAR, however, the shouk was about more than just fashion: Since it began just as the war in the North ended, organizers scrambled to find a way to help. By charging an optional extra NIS 5 to the entrance fee, the shouk raised NIS 40,000 to donate to charity funds for residents of the North. In addition, all participating designers were obligated to donate five items - make-up, clothing or accessories - for organizations to distribute to people in the North. And though more than 30,000 people were estimated to have attended the three-day event, the absence of northerners did not go unnoticed. "This year the market was a little disappointing," admitted Shelly and Eilon Satat-Combor of Couple Of, designer shoes for men and women. "It seemed most of the visitors were from the Tel Aviv area, whereas in previous years we met people from all over, especially the North," they said, adding, "maybe the war kept them away." Other designers like Dorit Sadeh pointed out that considering the fighting that racked the country for the past month, they were lucky the event took place at all. But despite the lingering memories of war, the Designers' Shouk managed to provide shoppers and designers with an excellent distraction. "It's such a fun atmosphere, it makes me want to shop as well as sell," said Sadeh, who joined the shouk four years ago. "We love the dynamics of the shouk, the creativity and the gathering of many talents under one roof," said Etti and Udi Tsa'ig, owners and designers of Yalduti, a children's clothing store, who claimed this year's market was still a huge success. Judging by the numerous shopping bags filling the arms of shoppers - including my own - and the constant line of women waiting impatiently outside to be let in, I'd say it was a success indeed. And if you missed the fun, fret not - the same designers and more will showcase their winter wares come February.