In the swim of another era

The look, regardless of the garment, remains as fresh as tomorrow. This was Lea Gottlieb’s special gift.

Gottex showroom at the Israeli fashion week 521 (photo credit: Dan Landau)
Gottex showroom at the Israeli fashion week 521
(photo credit: Dan Landau)
THE DEATH last month of fashion design icon Lea Gottlieb spelled the end of an era. With her passing went glamor as we once knew it in Israel – and not so long ago at that.
Yes, there are still fashion shows in glamorous settings with extremely attractive models – both male and female – and there are some breathtaking styles on the runways, but that special sophisticated elegance that was the hallmark of Gottex, the company that Gottlieb founded and headed, has somehow evaporated.
She had a rare talent for designing timeless creations, as the photographs on this page can testify.
There are many more Gottex photographs in the photo files of The Jerusalem Post. The beachwear remains undated, although occasionally the models’ hairstyles might be a giveaway.
But the maillots, the loose swinging jackets, the versatile pareos, the body-hugging pants, the tunics that can double as mini dresses and the dramatic kaftans could just as easily be photographed for next year’s catalog.
In those photographs of fashion shows in which the audience is visible, it is obvious from both the hairstyles and the attire that the scenes were captured for posterity many years ago.
And yet the look, regardless of the garment, remains as fresh as tomorrow. This was Gottlieb’s special gift.
Prints of the skins of the reptiles, tigers and leopards of the African jungle; large exotic flowers; stripes; intricate graphics; checks and polka dots – all in vibrant colors – keep resurfacing on the fashion scene as they did in Gottex collections, which were often given that extra cachet of chic with a touch of embossed, or embroidered, binding related to the traditional embroideries of the region.
Black and white, often bound with gold or featuring gold insets, were Gottex perennials, paraded with feline grace by the sensuous Tami Ben-Ami, whose high sense of drama was equal only to that of Gottlieb herself. That was the true secret of the success of every Gottex show.
As far as Gottlieb and Ben-Ami were concerned, it couldn’t be just another showing of swimsuits.
The show had to have an ornate background, a large number of models, loads of exotic accessories and an aura of luxury.
Ben-Ami, one of the tallest models in Israel, was able to pull this off with aplomb. She did so with even greater dedication at photo shoots in locations on tropical islands, or against the backdrop of the pyramids of Giza, where nature itself complemented her height and her beauty.
Small wonder that Ben-Ami was one of Gottlieb’s favorite models. Unfortunately illness caught up with her before age. After a two-year battle with cancer she died in July 1995 at age 40.
Ben-Ami had consistently denied she was ill, and in a television talk show hosted by journalist Dan Margalit, as she sat groomed to million-dollar perfection, she asked him: “Do I look sick to you?” She didn’t, but she was.
Gottlieb’s daughter Judith, a designer in her own right and all set to carry on the family business if and when her mother retired, died in 2003, also a cancer victim. Gottlieb too, was very ill before she died. But there was a big difference. She was 94.
The financial side of the business had been run by Gottlieb’s husband Armin, who died in 1995. After his death Gottex began to suffer financial setbacks to the extent that in 1997 the family was forced to sell out to Africa Israel Investments.
The Gottex factory closed down, and mother and daughter stayed on for a while in the production premises that Africa Israel used for the manufacture of swimwear under another successful label, but one that was not nearly as internationally recognized as Gottex.
The relationship did not last very long and resulted in Miriam Rosow – Gottlieb’s older daughter who had headed the Gottex showroom in New York – also leaving the company.
Designing fabrics and swimwear was part of Gottlieb’s psyche. At 85, after her non-competition agreement with Africa Israel had expired, she came out with her own line under the Lea Gottlieb label. She may not have sold to as many countries as she did when she ran Gottex, but a lot of her old clients in Israel and abroad were delighted that she was back in business.